Conversations post bee-line to the free beer line at the launch of Sheila Heti’s latest novel, How Should a Person Be?, tended to be some variation of the following:
Is Sheila here yet?
Do you think Lena Dunham coming?
Did you read the New Yorker review?
For the most part, the responses were:
I don’t know, I haven’t seen her yet.
I heard she’s coming too. Do you think she’s really coming?
No, it just came out today. I didn’t read it yet, but she looks so hot in the picture!
The crowd—much more robust than the one in attendance last summer for Heti’s reading of The Chairs are Where the People Go—included the standard Brooklyn literati and publishing folk, as well as a few of today’s book stars, like Alex Gilvarry, Leanne Shapton, and Gideon Lewis-Kraus. There seemed to be a larger swath of the general public in attendance than usual for a book event, lending to the impression that this was one people actually wanted to attend. Possibly even before they heard the Lena Dunham rumors.
Heti finally did arrive, looking perfectly (but not overly) twee in an open-backed, pale green dress and simple black heels, her short blonde bangs accentuating her youthful presence. As one friend described, “she’s like Bjork, if Bjork were normal.” Heti actually does seem sort of normal, even through the slight dissonance of her wholesome Canadian demeanor and her passages about back-of-the-throat blowjobs and entire chapters about fucking.
Rumors of the Lena Dunham variety claimed Heti would only read for five minutes, and the rest of the time we would “have a conversation.” She read just long enough to get through the prologue, which superficially and appropriately is about everything and nothing. It covers being a genius, being a celebrity, and why Jews eat bagels and matzoh, and it’s also (accurately and humorously) about how “smiling only encourages men to bore you and waste your time.”
As usual, the Q&A was mildly uncomfortable for everyone, and had little to no substance of interest except for a few moments. Heti talked about how writing is actually her second love, and performance her first. “All artists do their second love,” she said, explaining how she found herself writing a book about not writing a play.
Just beneath Heti’s veneer of soul-searching is a slightly different, yet equally ubiquitous, existential, and unanswerable question regarding the eternal conflict of the sexes. When asked to talk more about a scene in the book involving bondage, Heti paused for a moment and mumbled to herself before blurting out: “Love is a battle between the sexes in which the man always wins because that’s more erotic for everyone.” She didn’t have more to say on the topic, admitting through her laughter that she was just happy to have the opportunity to use the line.