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Advice Column, Part Five: Sarah Manguso

Sarah Manguso is a poet and writer of nonfiction novels, or whatever you want to call them. They are poetic and spare and true. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and child. I met her at a writer's colony in 2006, and I vividly remember an early discussion we had in which we admitted to each other what part of our bodies we liked least. What was nice about it was that neither of us had even noticed what the other was complaining about, and when it was pointed out, we thought the other was absurd. That made an impression on me. My favorite of her books, The Two Kinds of Decay, was about an illness she suffered in her 20s, and her most recent book (also great), The Guardians, is about the death of a friend. She is a writer I truly admire, for she never shies away from writing about the most difficult things. She also has these incredible eyes, which means just what you think: she is indeed always looking.

Sheila: At what point should one abandon the decisions one has made?At what point should one abandon the decisions one has made? You and I have made pacts, and you've told me about decisions you've made that you've kept and about friends of yours who've made decisions they've kept. I know every situation is different, but do you have a rule of thumb, or could you imagine some sort of technique, to help one determine when to quit, when to go on, when to break a decision?

Sarah: I don't believe constancy of mind (hard-headedness?) is a virtue in itself, so I don't believe changing one's mind, adjusting or abandoning a decision, is necessarily "breaking" anything. At best, it's growth. Constancy of heart, keeping commitments to others — that's the virtue.

More from Sheila Heti at PowellsBooks.Blog:

More from Sarah Manguso: The Word Memoir

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Sheila Heti is the author of several books of fiction, including The Middle Stories and Ticknor; and an essay collection written with Misha Glouberman, The Chairs Are Where the People Go. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Bookforum, McSweeney's, n+1, and the Guardian. How Should a Person Be? is her latest book.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. How Should a Person Be? Used Trade Paper $10.95
  2. The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir
    New Trade Paper $16.00
  3. The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend Sale Trade Paper $7.98

Sheila Heti is the author of How Should a Person Be?

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