How should a person write?


Book Club followed up Goon Squad with How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti. I’m going to skip the majority of our collective critique points from Saturday and keep it short: it reads as a collection of personal essays or do-dads (a blog) written by a person in her twenties, with a few toothless fictions thrown in. Basically, you can read as much or as little as pleases you, then simply skip to the last couple of lines—

“‘Then Jon said, in his sweetly caustic drawl, “I don’t think they even know the rules. I think they’re just slamming the ball around.’
And so they were.”

Boom, there’s your thesis. It’s ‘clever’, but altogether too easy an out for a book, particularly one written by a grown-ass woman in her mid-thirties. I’ve no issue with reading a blog that simply slams the ball around, but if you’re gonna print it and bind it in boards, that shit should at least try to have an arc or a point. Disjointed memoir pages with a few glittering bits ’n bobs do not a ‘novel’ make.

I’m disappointed that neither of these books were more impressive. It makes me think of a half-hearted sub-thesis in Heti’s, that being the repetition of “He was just another man trying to teach me something,” by way of a dismissal. Gender notwithstanding, we do well to learn from others— maybe she ought to give it another go.

Up next (for contrast!) we’ve chosen A Moveable Feast. This is a treat as I’ve not read it in years, since before I visited Paris. It’s even better this time, now I can visualize the streets he wanders, the bridges and quais, the Luxembourg Gardens and on and on.

 “With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was a truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.”

Like he says, start by writing one true sentence and go from there.

(Incidentally, Feast was published posthumously.)

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