The Chairs are Where the People Go, by Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti

These last two days where life inside my home (as opposed to Work, and The Great Outdoors), have mostly been all about the dining room floor and the sun room floor, and the sanding and varnishing thereof. And a four D puzzle of New York taking up most of the living room, the dining room being (obviously) out of commission. So though I am in the middle of two good books (Advent and The Atomic Weight of Secrets) and several less good books, I turned during my breaks to a slim new arrival, a collection of autobiographical shared thoughts-- The Chairs are Where the People Go, by Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti.

Misha Glouberman was a lovely person to have brief reading chats with. How could I not enjoy his words when he makes his living, among other things, as a professional Charades instructor? (On re-reading, it strikes me that this sounds ironic, but it wasn't meant to be). I find that such a pleasing idea--not just that he had the gumption and enjoyment of life to want to teach charades, but that random people would sign up, and do their charades homework, and have a ball with it. He is an organizer of unconferences and of public participation in music events, someone who isn't afraid to start a group he would like to join, and a player of a game that involves people moving rocks in a way at once utterly pointless and yet deeply invested with meaningful social bonding (if the players take it seriously). I would like to play it. Maybe.

His thoughts on sundry topics, mostly involving urban life as lived by himself, deal mainly about ways in which people engage with each other--not in the Big Issue sort of way, but how people might socially construct lives for themselves that have interest and interpersonal engagement. It is just a series of short monologues in which he shares what he thinks about this and that. He isn't pushing a big agenda, he isn't telling anecdotes, he's basically just talking about things he has thought about. It's not polished beautiful prose essays ala E.B. White or A.A. Milne (whose essays I enjoy lots), but there were thoughts that spoke to me.

Like--it's really easy to get caught up in a battle mentality, consumed with defeating your enemy. And he couches his response to this not as a Moral Dictum (because he's not trying to convert the reader) but as a statement--"You're just being angry in ways that don't make things better for anybody." (page 80).

Also useful--"If you're running a project and you want to get people involved, ask them to set up chairs. People like to set up chairs, and it's easy work to delegate." (page 16).

But seriously, how could I not like a book that includes an essay on "How to Teach Charades"?

Basically, the book reassured me that it is possible that other people are not, as a general rule of thumb, utterly foreign, but are in fact capable of playing nicely (by which I mean, literally, "playing and doing and experiencing enjoyable things outside the impingement of mundane expectations," not "all getting along"). And that maybe if you ask people for help, they will actually be really happy to have the chance to be helpful.

In case you've read this far but still have no clue what sort of book this is, here's the Amazon blurb. It may or may not be helpful, but I do very much like the bit at the very end.

"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."


  1. This sounds like one of those "blow-your-mind" books which is about, say, playing tic tac toe, but really about world politics. I shall look for it.

  2. Yes, I was thinking it might appeal to you! Let me know what you think if you do get it.

  3. Replies
    1. And its by a Canadian, which might be added value for you....

  4. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy as a break from other reading, I will have to look for it. On the other hand, isn't the NYC 3-D puzzle the best? I turned to it after I finished all the castles. I love doing puzzles.

    1. But it was probably much much much easier for you! I have no clue which skyscraper is which. Still don't. Was this the same one you did? http://www.amazon.com/4D-York-City-Skyline-Puzzle/dp/B002T1HG82

    2. No, that must be a newer version. The one I did washttp://www.amazon.com/York-City-Skyline-Puzzle-3000pc/dp/B000066G5Y/ref=pd_sim_sbs_t_3
      Needless to say, it took forever and, much as I love 3-ds, I haven't done one since, though I have been tempted by a new castle that's come out recently. I hadn't thought about the skyline, I guess I just took it for granted, I have been looking at it for so long. I like the one you are doing, too. Umm...


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