I have just read a book at a complete life changing point. Some times in life things catch you at just the right moment, as was the case with Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?
My friend Claire works at the London Review Bookshop, and often comes to the pub after events there. we talk about books, gardening, crafts, life, everything. And last week we talked about one of her up and coming events, a Sheila Heti Q&A. And about how she could really relate to her book, and about how I should read it. Now, this being the year I have decided to try to build more of a life for myself outside of work; to try and actually live, in essence, I decided to take Claire up on her recommendation that I both a) read the book, and b) attend the event at the end of April.
I finished the book in a day and a half. I sat in bed, glued to the pages, unable to do anything else. This was a book that spoke directly to me. Claire was bang on with her recommendation. It is, in essence, a novel entirely in response to it’s title; a semi autobiographical, metafictional, musing by the artist on what it means to be a person. Which is something I think about a lot myself, being just at the right point in my twenties where I start looking around and realizing ‘this isn’t how I thought it was going to be, what now?’.
The narrative voice that ties the whole book together is what I would consider ‘likably unlikeable’. The flaws are all incredibly apparent, a huge part of her makeup, but they’re so relatable as to be endearing. ‘Overanalysis? Oh, I do that. A Desperate desire to be adored? Yup. She’s just like me.’. The worries about not knowing about life’s purpose, about not being able to create, about not being able to love, they’re all things that are at the forefront of my mind too, most of the time. This is an outpouring of anxiety about selfhood that manages to be relatable and funny, if occasionally bringing on moments of the fear.
I think, though, what I liked most about the book was the huge, deep vein of female friendship running through it. Sheila’s relationship with her best friend, Margaux, is the strongest and most rewarding in the book. it is the antidote to all the ‘men trying to teach her something’ that she finds so disappointing. it is more of a source of emotional solace than her tumultuous sexual arrangement. It is richly detailed, it is warm, it is mutual. It made me grateful for the fantastic females I have the privilege of being emotionally close to; for the strengthening nature of female friendship and its vital part in building a self if you are a twentysomething girl in a big city who maybe hasn’t found what she considers a direction in life yet and is worried about maybe never doing so. It made me consider that there’s nothing quite as amazing as the feeling that you are lucky to be friends with a creative, successful, beautiful woman.
The book I needed to read, at the right time, in the right place, definitely. And the sign that I loved it is that I have already lent it to somebody, with all my underlinings and scribblings and so on in it. Someone who I want to see those underlinings and scribblings; someone who I want to see my self better than I could explain it. We’ll see how that works out. And in the meantime, I have the event to look forward to.