Sheila Heti is the author of three books of fiction: The Middle Stories, Ticknor, and How Should a Person Be? In July 2011 Faber and Faber published her nonfiction book The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City, co-written with Misha Glouberman. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s, n + 1, and The Guardian. She regularly conducts interviews for The Believer. You can follow her on Twitter @sheilaheti.
There were some wonderful books in my hands this year. My favorites from those published in 2011 were Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, Miranda July’s It Chooses You, and Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods. Each was gutsy in its own way; each gave us a unique, complete world.
Lightning Rods reminded me how fun following a narrative can be. It’s a great joke about sex and America, like a 1960s Playboy comic come to life. For It Chooses You, Miranda July went out into Los Angeles, into the world of people selling their used things, and returned with photographs of the people and their homes, and her hilarious and touching transcribed conversations with them. The whole thing is tied together with a searching narrative about her attempt to finish her second film. Leaving the Atocha Station is a brilliant first novel from the poet, Ben Lerner. He takes us into the world of a young poet on a fellowship in Spain, as he thinks about art, romantic love, and the love (and loathing) of oneself.
Some other books I loved this year, not published in 2011:
Lucinella by Lore Segal. For me, the most memorable scene was her depiction of a literary party, which highlights the pain of seeing the self one was, and then the pain of the self one becomes. I hope to read everything she’s written.
Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis is a brilliant biography that reads like Michaelis was there, standing by Charles Schulz his whole life. It’s a compelling and beautifully written narrative of a singular artist.
Parts of Books Copied Without Permission by Anonymous is a chapbook someone gave to me at a reading in Montreal. No permissions were sought or granted; the guy just reproduced his favorite stories and poems. “It is as if I dragged a photocopier through my bookshelves, glued it all together, and gave you what I made.” The best poetry I read this year came from here.
The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. I don’t know how it took me so long to get to this. I then quickly read all of the Zuckerman books, but loved The Ghost Writer best.
Finally, as great as any book I read this year was Louis C.K.’s series, Louie. He plays a version of himself (a divorced comic with two daughters living in New York). Each episode has its own original structure. He wrote, produced, and edited the series. He really understands and sees people, and some of the episodes (like the Iraq episode, and the one where his friend is planning to commit suicide) contain scenes so richly and sensitively imagined they’re not only hilarious, but also profound and unforgettable.