The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City

The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City

by Misha Glouberman, Sheila Heti

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Should neighborhoods change? Is wearing a suit a good way to quit smoking? Why do people think that if you do one thing, you're against something else? Is monogamy a trick? Why isn't making the city more fun for you and your friends a super-noble political goal? Why does a computer last only three years? How often should you see your parents? How should we behave

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Should neighborhoods change? Is wearing a suit a good way to quit smoking? Why do people think that if you do one thing, you're against something else? Is monogamy a trick? Why isn't making the city more fun for you and your friends a super-noble political goal? Why does a computer last only three years? How often should you see your parents? How should we behave at parties? Is marriage getting easier? What can spam tell us about the world?

Misha Glouberman's friend and collaborator, Sheila Heti, wanted her next book to be a compilation of everything Misha knew. Together, they made a list of subjects. As Misha talked, Sheila typed. He talked about games, relationships, cities, negotiation, improvisation, Casablanca, conferences, and making friends. His subjects ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. But sometimes what had seemed trivial began to seem important—and what had seemed important began to seem less so.

The Chairs Are Where the People Go is refreshing, appealing, and kind of profound. It's a self-help book for people who don't feel they need help, and a how-to book that urges you to do things you don't really need to do.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The city in question is Toronto, where Glouberman lives and plies his trades as instructor in improvisation and charades, and artistic impresario. These plainspoken, idiosyncratic essays, transcribed by Heti, a friend and fellow organizer, of their lecture series Trampoline Hall, coalesce cozily around the patient, earnest, well-intentioned voice of the speaker. Doled out is sanguine, youth-oriented advice such as how to make friends in a new city ("It's useful to identify what you like to do"), why going to parties should be fun and constructive, and the importance of placing chairs as close to the stage as possible ("Everyone should know these things"). The platitudes are self-explanatory, but prove so understated as to be frequently hilarious. Examples are observations on manners and teaching an audience to ask good questions ("What I warn people against is feelings of pride"). During the long-winded account of how he formed a neighborhood residents' association to block the opening of noisy bars, Glouberman concludes with a healthy endorsement of compromise—a realization that surprised even himself. Eliminating antagonism is one of the author's pets, as well as learning how to be decisive (like when quitting smoking) and simply accept unhappiness as an ongoing state of striving. As part of his work, he shares many tips on playing charades and easing communication with other games, like play fighting; overall, he dispenses the nondidactic wisdom of an avuncular sage. (July)
The New Yorker

A triumph of what might be called conversational philosophy . . . The world is better for these humane and hilarious essays.
The Los Angeles Times Susan Salter Reynolds

[A] glorious collection of essays . . . deeply hip and also endearing . . . The general message is collaboration amid density, hilarity despite and with all due respect for (some of) the rules.
Shelf Awareness

If you're searching for a gift for that student who is ending her academic career or about to take a job in a strange new city, you could do worse than this modest, idiosyncratic version of an urban survival manual . . . Glouberman is consistently reasonable, self-effacing and creative as he poses at least tentative solutions to these dilemmas, while discoursing on thornier and more abstract subjects, like whether monogamy is a trick or how we might go about creating meaningful ritual to serve a secular society . . . It's pleasant to imagine sharing a coffee with Misha Glouberman in a Toronto café, exploring some of life's recurring mysteries. Until that opportunity presents itself, this book is an admirable substitute.
contributing editor to This American Life and auth JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN

An odd and satisfying blend of philosophy, self-help, and, improbably, charade game theory. Misha Glouberman wins you over with a simple and good-spirited reasonableness that leaves you feeling uplifted by the power a voice of common sense can still have in the world. The Chairs Are Where the People Go reads like the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin as told to David Byrne.
author of The Invisible Dragon and Air Guitar DAVE HICKEY

Sheila Heti is the patron saint of raconteurs. Misha Glouberman is a raconteur. The result is a compendium of riffs on a variety of interesting subjects. Misha stays serious throughout. Sheila stays calm. The result is very funny.
author of American Rust PHILIPP MEYER

A clever, thoughtful commentary on modern urban life, illuminating everything from how to deal with annoying neighbors to how to run an improv class.
author of The Two Kinds of Decay SARAH MANGUSO

The book initially seems a series of exercises in studied naiveté. Then Glouberman admits to waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks about the charades class he's developed and taught for years, and the tone changes. You, too, start to remember the difficulty and the crucial seriousness of impracticality, of relearning unpracticed behavior, and of life itself.
author of Altmann's Tongue and Baby Leg BRIAN EVENSON

This breezy but smart book tells you everything you need to know about how best to play charades, the dilemmas of being an urban activist, how to set up chairs, why wearing a suit might help you give up smoking, and many other things. It lulls you into thinking you've got it sorted out only to suddenly become surprisingly insightful and even moving.
The Rumpus Jessica Gross

The ethos that emerges from The Chairs Are Where the People Go -- and I say "emerges" because it is only ever implicit --offers a possible way out of America's inwardly focused mess. Glouberman and Heti never admonish or direct, but as a reader, seeing empathy in practice is helpful and encouraging -- even, and maybe especially, if it's demonstrated through an improv game.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn Jason Diamond

[The Chairs Are Where the People Go] almost makes me think of Demetri Martin giving up on being a comedian, and becoming a philosopher. Chris Estey

The Chairs Are Where The People Go is sort of an Advanced Urban Studies, about the aesthetics of the everyday, and how to get along with everyone else while learning to enjoy yourself more creatively. For someone like me who hates the genre (is it a genre?), it does for self-help books what Moby Dick did for the novel.
The Stranger Paul Constant

But these brief essays -- most are just a page or two long -- pile onto each other in an interesting, even hypnotic fashion (that's Heti's hand at work). As Glouberman explains why he enjoys making actors babble gibberish at each other, and as he lists some of the most difficult charades clues he's ever encountered (including Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Guam, and 1984), you start to, grudgingly at first, fall for the guy . . . When you get near the end of Chairs, you realize that all the stories have a common theme: Glouberman is most interested in teaching people how to communicate. That's a decidedly urban goal--cities would not be tolerable places without effective communication?but it's also a beautifully human goal. What Glouberman has learned from teaching and finding compromises and community with his neighbors can be used everywhere, to make life better for everyone. Without the struggle to find food or to simply stay alive, he can focus on bettering the fundamental glue that holds us all together.
The Forward Renee Ghert-Zand

There is definitely something about Misha Glouberman that makes us want to hang out inside his head for a little while.
Library Journal
The title of this offbeat guide by Canadian improvisation instructor Glouberman is somewhat of a misnomer, as the 72 short chapters actually contain the author's thoughts and opinions about life in general. For instance, he explains why computers last only three years and why wearing a suit is a good way to quit smoking. Glouberman reduces many aspects of socialization to game playing, and advises the reader how to be good at charades, for instance, or how to fight in gibberish. The book is surprisingly entertaining and offers enjoyable browsing.
Kirkus Reviews

A bounty of short, sound advice and commentary from a Canadian improvisational-theatre instructor.

Together with good friend Heti, Glouberman, a former manners columnist, facilitates the popular Trampoline Hall spoken-word series, where amateur lecturers take center stage. Heti, consistently awestruck by her co-collaborator's vast knowledge base, decided to team up with Glouberman on a book elucidating "everything he knows." Transcribing the author's words verbatim produces fresh, pithy perspectives on a wide range of diverse subjects, issues, pleasures and irritants. With a collective slant toward the younger reader, Glouberman's sage, instructional and often unintentionally hilarious commentary addresses how to navigate urban Toronto life while respecting others' personal space ("A city is a place where you can be alone in public, and where you have that right"), how to make friends ("You'll have to spend time with people who seem initially interesting but then turn out not to be"), acquiesce leadership roles, learn manners and some unconventional chatter on what he believes energizes cocktail parties ("people's fear of being seen not talking to anyone"). While some of his advice borders on whimsy, the author shines when he shares personal anecdotes and revelations—e.g., his civic involvement in the development of a local neighborhood Resident's Association advocating against the proliferation of noisy nightclubs in residential areas. He saves his greatest revelation for last in describing how he quit a heavy smoking habit using a self-rewarding method and the development of a conscious, steely decisiveness that continues to fortify his life today.

Perceptive musings ready-made for artistically inspired readers and those with short attention spans.

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Product Details

Faber and Faber
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

1. People’s Protective Bubbles Are Okay


I hear people complain that, for instance, in this city, people don’t say hi on the street or make eye contact on the subway. And people try to remedy this problem by doing public art projects that are meant to rouse the bourgeoisie from their slumber. But that’s ridiculous! It’s perfectly reasonable for people not to want to see your dance performance when they are coming home from work. People are on the subway because they’re getting from one place to another, and for all you know, they’re coming from a job that involves interacting with lots and lots of people, and going to a home where there’s a family where they’re going to interact with lots more people. And the subway’s the one place where they can have some quiet time, get some reading done, not have to smile, not have to make eye contact. That’s what a city is: a city is a place where you can be alone in public, and where you have that right. It’s necessary to screen people out. It would be overwhelming if you had to perceive every single person on a crowded subway car in the fullness of their humanity. It would be completely paralyzing. You couldn’t function. So don’t try to fix this. There is no problem.


Copyright © 2011 by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti

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