The Chairs Are Where the People Go is an episodic and impressionistic book by Misha Glouberman “with” Sheila Heti. I was not expecting to loathe it in the way I had come to approach the now-terminated FruTopia series of Toronto-cheerleading volumes. For one thing, I am an Heti convert, having been won over by her smart and unruffled answer to a pointed question I asked her at Word on the Street, and by her daring confessional nonfiction novel.
Something else I was not expecting was to be quite so impressed and persuaded by half the chapters in the book. I am talking about most of the chapters that are not about teaching charades or teaching atonal music, few of which I could even stand to read for half a graf. But in the rest of the episodes, I was all but flabbergasted to read opinions and judgements I thought were absolutely forbidden among the Spacer class of which Glouberman is an undisputed leader.
There is too much of a reliance on an intrusively conversational tone – qualifier sentences starting with “I mean,” excessive exclamation points in the style of Mr. SICHA. And the book could not really be said to have been “designed” (by Farrar in-house designer Lippincott). But if we accept the former as a stylistic feature and the latter as the best we can hope for in an age of nonexistent book design, what’s left is the “content,” which, I reiterate, is shocking in its straightforwardness and the intellectual honesty of its conclusions.
Everyone will focus on the chapters detailing Glouberman’s fight to keep a local bar that may or may not be the Drake from playing such loud music. These are as good as everyone will say they are, and should be mandatory reading for Spacers and urban-planning students. But what I am more interested in are the chapters on making money and being “poor”; on the left-wing insistence that no group, not even a group with an undisputed founder, really has a leader; and – especially – what’s wrong with conferences.
I note that last one despite my considerable objections (apparently I am the only objector) to unconferences, which Glouberman champions and charges good money for. (The only Glouberman unconference I went to I didn’t like. I am not blaming him for that. And I am signed up for another one coming up this weekend, where I give 50/50 odds I’ll be turned away at the door.)
Misha Glouberman is a bit of a star in leftist downtown Spacer circles. I think the real justification for his stellar reputation was never apparent before he wrote this book. This is why Misha Glouberman is worthy of respect – original conclusions derived from rigorous observation.
I was quite surprised to find a book about Toronto rendered in U.S. spellings (save for Eaton Centre) and published by a New York house.
The Chairs Are Where the People Go is an instant classic. It could also work phenomenally well broken up into electronic form and, dissected and reassembled another way, sold as a course to Glouberman’s corporate clientele.
Frankly, I don’t think he’d like me very much, but, as in Heti’s case, whether he wants it or not I am now definitely a fan.