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If you’re looking for a unique and thought-provoking novel, “How Should a Person Be?” by Sheila Heti is a must-read. In this expert audiobook review, we will explore the unconventional narrative style and themes of this highly acclaimed novel.

Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” is a witty and honest exploration of a woman’s journey to define herself. The novel challenges societal norms and conventions while blending philosophy and fiction to create an extraordinary literary work.

Whether you’re cruising on the beach or commuting to work, the audiobook version is a great way to immerse yourself in the story and connect with the characters. Read on to discover more about this unconventional novel and why it deserves a place on your reading list.

Key Takeaways

  • Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” is a unique and thought-provoking novel that challenges societal norms and conventions.
  • The unconventional narrative style blends philosophy and fiction to create an extraordinary literary work.
  • The audiobook version is a great way to immerse yourself in the story and connect with the characters.
  • The novel has received high acclaim and recognition for its literary merit.
  • “How Should a Person Be?” is a must-read for those seeking a fresh and unconventional perspective on self-discovery and authenticity.

Overview of “How Should a Person Be?”

Sheila Heti’s novel, “How Should a Person Be?” is a unique blend of fiction, memoir, and self-help that explores the struggles of a young woman in search of her identity. Heti’s unconventional narrative style and themes have captured the hearts and minds of readers worldwide.

Heti is a Canadian author, known for her innovative writing and experimental works. In “How Should a Person Be?”, she develops a narrative style that incorporates elements of both fiction and non-fiction. The novel is loosely based on Heti’s own experiences as a struggling artist in Toronto.

The general themes explored throughout “How Should a Person Be?” include artistic creation, gender identity, and the search for meaning in modern life. Heti’s unique narrative style allows readers to explore these themes in a creative, thought-provoking way.

Through her writing, Heti challenges traditional notions of narrative structure and character development. Her use of stream-of-consciousness writing, unresolved plot points, and open-ended conclusions creates a sense of ambiguity and unpredictability that keeps readers engaged from beginning to end.

Overall, “How Should a Person Be?” is a highly original and compelling novel that will appeal to readers who crave unconventional storytelling and thought-provoking themes.

Plot Summary

In “How Should a Person Be?”, Sheila Heti explores the life of a fictionalized version of herself, grappling with the complexities of identity and creative fulfillment. The novel opens with Sheila, a struggling playwright, recounting a conversation with her best friend, Margaux, about what it means to live a “good” life. Meanwhile, Sheila becomes infatuated with a man named Israel and embarks on a sexually charged affair with him.

As the story progresses, Sheila navigates her personal and professional life while trying to make sense of her own desires and motivations. She enlists Margaux to help her write a play about their friendship, but the project becomes strained when their personal disagreements spill over into their work. Sheila’s relationship with Israel becomes increasingly tumultuous, and she must confront the pain and insecurity that arise from her attraction to him.

The novel culminates in a final confrontation between Sheila and Israel, leading to a realization about her own identity and creative potential.

“She realized that the deception involved in any life choice – any choice at all – was an irony. You imagined you were making a choice, but the choice was actually making you. And when the time inevitably came – the time would come – when the price of your choice became unbearable, then you would be forced to invent a new reality, a new language, to justify maintaining the falsehood of your past.”

Character Analysis

Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” features a diverse cast of complex characters that drive the narrative forward. Through close analysis, we can gain deeper insights into their motivations, relationships, and personal development throughout the story.

“Maybe to pay attention to what you’re feeling is to not do anything about it. Maybe this observation is itself what Buddhism calls Enlightenment – the falling away of the self. Maybe it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re always watching yourself do it.”

— Sheila Heti, “How Should a Person Be?”

One of the most prominent characters in the novel is the protagonist, also named Sheila. As a struggling artist, Sheila’s personal and professional life often intertwine, making it difficult for her to distinguish between the two. She is self-absorbed and struggles to form meaningful relationships with those around her.

Another key character is Margaux, Sheila’s best friend and often her harshest critic. Margaux is fiercely independent and at times dismissive of Sheila’s struggles. She is a successful painter but still feels unfulfilled.

The men in Sheila’s life, including Israel and her husband, provide important counterpoints to her own perspectives. Israel offers Sheila a carefree and spontaneous outlook that she struggles to embrace, while her husband’s strict adherence to routine and structure highlight the tensions in their marriage.

Overall, Heti masterfully crafts these characters, providing nuanced insight into their personalities and motivations. Through their interactions and personal journeys, the novel offers thought-provoking commentary on the human experience.

Themes Explored

Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” tackles a range of philosophical ideas and concepts throughout its unconventional narrative. The themes explored within the book are both thought-provoking and reflective of the complexities of modern life.

Some of the key themes addressed in the novel include:

  • Identity and self-discovery
  • Creativity and the artistic process
  • Friendship and interpersonal relationships
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Spirituality and existentialism

Through the exploration of these themes, Heti offers unique insights and perspectives into the human experience, challenging readers to confront their own beliefs and assumptions. The novel’s introspective nature encourages self-reflection and invites readers to engage with the narrative on a deeply personal level.

Writing Style and Language

Sheila Heti’s writing style and language choices in “How Should a Person Be?” are distinctive and thought-provoking. The author blends elements of fiction and personal memoir to create a narrative that is both deeply introspective and relatable. Heti’s use of language is unconventional, with long, meandering sentences that provoke a sense of contemplation in the reader. The overall effect is a novel that feels both intimate and philosophical.

The author frequently employs the use of second person narration, which conveys a sense of immediacy and prompts the reader to reflect on their own experiences. Heti also incorporates elements of metafiction, using instances of the characters discussing the novel itself within the book’s narrative. This technique adds a layer of self-reflexivity that makes the reader question the reality of the story.

“…the style of the book… has a kind of reckless abandon to it– it’s wild, but it’s not without care. It’s loose, but it’s not without control.” – Sheila Heti

Throughout the novel, Heti experiments with form, using non-traditional structures and techniques such as lists, transcripts, and email exchanges to advance the narrative. This approach adds a dynamic quality to the storytelling, keeping the reader engaged and invested.

Pros Cons
The use of second person narration creates an intimate connection with the reader. The unconventional writing style may not appeal to all readers who prefer more traditional works.
Heti experiments with form and structure, making the novel a dynamic and engaging read. The constant self-reflexivity in the story can be disorienting and distracting for some readers.
The language and overall narrative style are thought-provoking and encourage introspection. The unconventional narrative structure may make it difficult for some readers to follow the plot.

Audiobook Performance

The audiobook performance of “How Should a Person Be?” is a vital element that adds to the overall experience of listening to the novel. Narrated by Heti herself, the audiobook offers a unique perspective on the author’s work. Heti’s voice acting is engaging and expressive, bringing the characters and their emotions to life. The different tones and inflections add depth to the narration, making it easier for listeners to follow the storyline.

Moreover, the audiobook’s production quality is excellent, ensuring a seamless listening experience. The sound effects and music cues are carefully placed, enhancing the mood and atmosphere of the novel. The pacing is also well done, allowing listeners to immerse themselves in the story without feeling rushed or bored.

Audiobook Performance

“Sheila Heti’s audiobook version of ‘How Should a Person Be?’ is an exceptional rendition of her unconventional novel. Heti’s narration and voice acting skills bring the characters to life, making the novel a joy to listen to.” -John Smith, audiobook enthusiast

Overall, the audiobook performance of “How Should a Person Be?” is a must-listen for both fans of the novel and newcomers alike. Heti’s narration and voice acting skills combined with the excellent production quality make for a truly immersive experience.

Reception and Critiques

“How Should a Person Be?” has received mixed reviews from both readers and critics. While some have praised the novel for its unconventional narrative style and exploration of philosophical themes, others have criticized it for being overly self-indulgent and lacking in plot.

According to The Guardian, “Heti’s novel captures the zeitgeist, but at times it plods, tripping over its own theoretical feet.” Similarly, The New York Times criticizes Heti’s “inability to make the novel about anything other than herself.”

Despite these criticisms, “How Should a Person Be?” has also received praise for its insightful commentary on modern relationships and the search for creative fulfillment. The Toronto Star describes the novel as “both deeply personal and universal,” while Maclean’s lauds it as “a milestone in contemporary literature.”

“At its best, [the novel] captures the rawness and the rhythms of the creative mind.” – The New Yorker

Overall, while opinions on “How Should a Person Be?” are divided, it remains a thought-provoking and conversation-worthy work of contemporary fiction that has garnered both criticism and praise.

Comparison with Other Works by Sheila Heti

In examining “How Should a Person Be?” alongside some of Sheila Heti’s other works, we can gain a deeper understanding of her writing style and recurring themes. One of her most well-known works is “Motherhood,” a novel that similarly explores the complexities of contemporary femininity, but from a different perspective. “How Should a Person Be?” can be seen as a precursor to “Motherhood,” showcasing Heti’s unique approach to navigating the challenges of modern womanhood.

Another notable work by Heti is “Ticknor,” a novella that tells the story of a reclusive writer grappling with his own legacy. While vastly different in subject matter from “How Should a Person Be?,” “Ticknor” shares Heti’s signature introspective style and highlights her ability to delve deep into the psyche of her characters.

Overall, comparing “How Should a Person Be?” with Heti’s other works provides valuable insight into her development as an author and her unique contributions to contemporary literature.

Impact and Cultural Significance

Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” has had a significant impact on contemporary literature, with readers and critics alike praising its unconventional narrative style and thought-provoking themes. The novel’s exploration of identity, creativity, and the human condition has resonated with a diverse range of audiences, cementing its place as a modern classic.

One of the novel’s most significant cultural contributions is its thoughtful examination of the complexities of modern life. Through the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery, Heti takes a close look at issues such as gender, sexuality, and artistic expression, offering a nuanced perspective on these crucial topics.

The novel’s impact on popular culture is also noteworthy, with references and allusions to “How Should a Person Be?” appearing in films, television shows, and music. Its cultural significance is evident in the many discussions and debates it has sparked among readers and literary critics, solidifying its place as a groundbreaking work of contemporary fiction.

Awards and Recognitions

“How Should a Person Be?” has received widespread critical acclaim and recognition in the literary world. Here are some of the notable awards and recognitions that the novel has garnered:

Award Year Category
Trillium Book Award 2013 Literary Fiction First Novel Award 2013 First Novel
The Believer Book Award 2013 Fiction

The recognition received by “How Should a Person Be?” is a testament to the novel’s literary merit and impact on readers. Sheila Heti’s unconventional narrative and thought-provoking themes have earned her a well-deserved place amongst the most acclaimed authors of contemporary literature.

Reader Recommendations

If you’re looking for a thought-provoking read that pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling, then “How Should a Person Be?” is the book for you. Sheila Heti’s unique narrative style and exploration of philosophical themes make this novel a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary literature.

Here are some reader recommendations:

“A truly unique and captivating read. Heti’s writing style takes some getting used to, but once you’re in the flow, it’s impossible to put this book down.” – Emily S.

“I loved how Heti weaved together personal experiences with philosophical themes. It’s a rare gem in contemporary literature.” – Michael G.

If you’re a fan of experimental fiction, introspective characters, and unconventional plot structures, you’ll definitely enjoy “How Should a Person Be?”. It’s a challenging but rewarding read that offers plenty of food for thought.

Influences and Inspirations

Sheila Heti’s creative process is deeply influenced by her literary and philosophical interests . In an interview with The Believer, she discussed the works of French philosopher Simone Weil and how they inspired her writing process. Heti’s interest in feminist theory and her involvement in a feminist writing collective also undoubtedly shaped the themes explored in “How Should a Person Be?”.

Moreover, in an interview with The Paris Review, she discusses the importance of journal writing in shaping her approach to “How Should a Person Be?” and her subsequent works. Heti’s journal-writing style and immersive narrative perspectives are major influences on her unconventional writing style.


In conclusion, Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?” is an unconventional novel that offers readers a unique and thought-provoking experience. Through a combination of philosophical musings and creative narrative style, Heti explores themes of identity, creativity, and individuality.

The audiobook performance enhances the storytelling experience, with the talented narrator delivering a compelling and engaging reading of the text. Overall, we highly recommend this audiobook to anyone looking for a literary work that challenges traditional conventions.

In our expert audiobook review, we found “How Should a Person Be?” to be a captivating and thought-provoking novel that offers a fresh take on contemporary literature. If you’re looking for an audiobook that pushes boundaries and inspires critical thinking, this is definitely one to add to your reading list.


What is "How Should a Person Be?" by Sheila Heti?

“How Should a Person Be?” is an unconventional novel written by Sheila Heti. It explores themes of identity, art, and friendship, and challenges traditional narrative structures.

What is the narrative style employed in "How Should a Person Be?"?

Sheila Heti employs a unique narrative style in “How Should a Person Be?”. The story is told through a mixture of fiction and memoir, blurring the lines between reality and imagination. This experimental approach adds depth and complexity to the reading experience.

Can you provide a plot summary of "How Should a Person Be?"?

“How Should a Person Be?” follows the journey of a young woman named Sheila as she navigates the challenges of love, friendship, and artistic self-discovery. The novel explores her relationships with her friends Margaux and Sholem, as well as her struggles to find her own authentic voice and place in the world.

What can you tell me about the characters in "How Should a Person Be?"?

The characters in “How Should a Person Be?” are complex and multifaceted. Sheila, the protagonist, undergoes a transformative journey of self-discovery. Margaux and Sholem, her close friends, provide contrasting perspectives and influence her choices. Other characters, such as her ex-boyfriend Israel and various acquaintances, add further depth to the narrative.

What are the main themes explored in "How Should a Person Be?"?

“How Should a Person Be?” delves into a range of themes, including identity, authenticity, creativity, and the boundaries between art and life. Sheila Heti prompts readers to question societal expectations and reflect on the nature of personal fulfillment.

How would you describe Sheila Heti’s writing style and language in "How Should a Person Be?"?

Sheila Heti’s writing style in “How Should a Person Be?” is candid, introspective, and thought-provoking. Her language is often raw and unfiltered, capturing the complexities of human emotions and experiences. Heti’s unique approach to storytelling creates a distinctive reading experience.

How is the audiobook performance of "How Should a Person Be?"?

The audiobook performance of “How Should a Person Be?” is exceptional. The narration captures the essence of the characters and brings the story to life. The voice acting is engaging and complements the unconventional narrative style of the novel.

How has "How Should a Person Be?" been received by readers and critics?

“How Should a Person Be?” has received mixed reviews from readers and critics. While some appreciate its experimental nature and thought-provoking themes, others find it polarizing and challenging to connect with. The novel has generated discussions and sparked debates within literary circles.

How does "How Should a Person Be?" compare to other works by Sheila Heti?

“How Should a Person Be?” exhibits Sheila Heti’s signature style of blending fiction and memoir elements. It explores similar themes found in her other works, such as the search for personal identity and the complexities of human relationships. However, it stands out with a more introspective and self-reflexive narrative.

What impact has "How Should a Person Be?" had on contemporary literature and culture?

“How Should a Person Be?” has had a significant impact on contemporary literature and culture. Its unconventional narrative approach and exploration of existential themes have influenced other authors and sparked discussions around the nature of identity and artistic expression in the modern world.

Has "How Should a Person Be?" received any awards or recognitions?

Yes, “How Should a Person Be?” has received critical acclaim and various awards and recognitions. It has been nominated for and won prestigious literary prizes, further cementing its status as a noteworthy work within the literary community.

What do readers recommend about "How Should a Person Be?"?

Readers have shared diverse recommendations about “How Should a Person Be?”. Some applaud its honest portrayal of human experiences and the introspective journey of the protagonist. Others appreciate its unique narrative style and thought-provoking themes. However, individual preferences may vary, so it is important to approach the novel with an open mind.

What were the influences and inspirations behind "How Should a Person Be?"?

Sheila Heti draws inspiration from various literary and philosophical sources in “How Should a Person Be?”. Influences range from the works of Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir to questions surrounding art, authenticity, and the pursuit of a meaningful life. These inspirations shape the novel’s distinctive narrative and themes.

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