Sheila Heti

Sheila Heti has been an accomplished writer since the 2001 release of The Middle Stories, her collection of surrealist and fantastical tales. She has found success in fiction and journalism alike, as an editor for The Believer magazine and author of the 2005 novel Ticknor. But it’s Heti’s latest, How Should a Person Be? — released this week in paperback — that has proven a sensation in its candid juxtaposition of Heti’s own experiences sculpted into fiction, coupled with an inquiry into human behavior and ideal living that turns notions of “self-help” upside-down. This week, she celebrates a trio of reads that each manage to possess a duality or contrast in a pair of ideas. Or as Heti puts it, here are “Three Great Books about Two Things.”

Finite and Infinite Games
By James Carse

“Carse splits everything in life into two categories of games: finite games and infinite ones. What are the rules for each? What does it mean for something to be finite and something to be infinite? People split the world in two all the time, but not always as interestingly as Carse does here: would you rather play a game you could win, with set players, which then ends, or one in which play is prolonged for the sake of the pleasures of play and the players are always changing? Which is motherhood? Which is Scrabble? Which is reading?”

The Two Kinds of Decay
By Sarah Manguso

“This is not only one of the most intense illness memoirs written, it’s also of the sharpest eyes on illness. Manguso is a poet and she tries to understand, in short paragraphs that are precise and still, what is happening to her body, and what one can take from this horror of an experience. The way this book is about two things for me (and there are many ways one can take her titular idea of two kinds of decay) is in the difference between undergoing something without noticing, and undergoing while noticing all.”

By Søren Kierkegaard

“This classic philosophical text is split in two: half is an argument for the moral life and living ethically. The other half is an argument for living the aesthetic life, living for the fullness of feeling and experience. A young man is the aesthete, and the section about aesthetics contains within it, among other things, the novel The Seducer’s Diary, in which we are with the thoughts of a man as he takes a girl through all the steps — the heights of romance, then disappointment. His older, married friend, a priest, argues for the ethical life, with marriage as its perfect, worldly expression. In marriage, a happy sort of Möbius strip of decency and pleasure revolve, for the duty is to love, but love creates the duty.”