The Chairs Are Where The People Sit, by Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti
This book was not quite what I expected it to be. Once upon a time I wrote a play called “A Play About Chairs” that made fun of the way that contemporary playwrights (and other creative people in general) were so concerned about symbolism and allegory and the desire to speak about the concerns of oppressed subaltern groups that they forgot often to write something that would be enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing. I thought that this book would have something to do with chairs, but it doesn’t really have much to do with chairs and instead is more like blog-post sized musings from someone I don’t know about nor particularly care about, nor agree with a lot, but it was still interesting because the person was a thoughtful enough person that even if I do not think we would ever vote for the same candidates or have the same worldviews that I think I could have an amusing time talking with him as we discussed matters of common interest like games and theater. This book is certainly one of those surprising ones if you come from a perspective of not knowing who this person is, as is likely to be the case.
This book is a short one at under 200 pages and consists of 72 short essays that average less than 3 pages apiece on various subjects of interest to the writer and his co-author. A lot of the book is spent talking about games, including the Uniqlo game (3), charades (5,7,21), the gibberish game (10), games the author won’t play with his friends (12), what makes a game (18), the rocks game (23), conducting game (28), games as a solution to problems (32), the converge/diverge game (36), and the relationship between games and failure (62). Other than that, the author talks about his classes, about how his thoughts on monagamy changed once he was in a long relationship, about the politics of neighborhood councils, and numerous other subjects that are mainly of interest to him. There are some areas even where the author talks about himself and his own life and his own thinking that are areas where I would disagree with him, such as when he says that he would never play mafia with his friends because he was concerned about the lying involved, when I learned how to play mafia from fellow religious people myself. And so it goes.
In the end, this book’s title doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since only one essay refers to it, even if the author is particularly fond of that one essay. That said, the author is at least somewhat likeable and this book is certainly not a bad one. It is by no means an essential book, and the author’s opinions aren’t worth all that much, but I have read much, much worse, and when it comes to reading a book like this I am inclined to be a somewhat generous judge. After all, there are so many worse places to look when it comes to books by people whose thoughts don’t really matter. And if we can encourage the creation of books like this then there is hope that a lot more people, including those whose thoughts are more interesting, would feel confident enough to write books that would be genuinely interesting to read. This is a book that is worthwhile not because I would agree with what it says, for most of the time I do not, but because its mere existence demonstrates that plenty of other people can and should start writing books to an appreciative audience about what they think and believe.