The Chairs Are Where the People Go How to Live, Work, and Play in the City

Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

192 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

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.


Praise for The Chairs Are Where the People Go

"An odd and satisfying blend of philosophy, self-help, and, improbably, charade game theory. Misha Glouberman wins you over with a simple and good-spirited reasonableness that leaves you feeling uplifted by the power a voice of common sense can still have in the world. The Chairs Are Where the People Go reads like the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin as told to David Byrne."—Jonathan Goldstein, contributing editor to This American Life and author of Lenny Bruce Is Dead

"Sheila Heti is the patron saint of raconteurs. Misha Glouberman is a raconteur. The result is a compendium of riffs on a variety of interesting subjects. Misha stays serious throughout. Sheila stays calm. The result is very funny."—Dave Hickey, author of The Invisible Dragon and Air Guitar

"A clever, thoughtful commentary on modern urban life, illuminating everything from how to deal with annoying neighbors to how to run an improv class."—Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust

"The book initially seems a series of exercises in studied naiveté. Then Glouberman admits to waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks about the charades class he's developed and taught for years, and the tone changes. You, too, start to remember the difficulty and the crucial seriousness of impracticality, of relearning unpracticed behavior, and of life itself."—Sarah Manguso, author of The Two Kinds of Decay

"This breezy but smart book tells you everything you need to know about how best to play charades, the dilemmas of being an urban activist, how to set up chairs, why wearing a suit might help you give up smoking, and many other things. It lulls you into thinking you've got it sorted out only to suddenly become surprisingly insightful and even moving."—Brian Evenson, author of Altmann's Tongue and Baby Leg

"The city in question is Toronto, where Glouberman lives and plies his trades as instructor in improvisation and charades, and artistic impresario. These plainspoken, idiosyncratic essays, transcribed by Heti, a friend and fellow organizer, of their lecture series Trampoline Hall, coalesce cozily around the patient, earnest, well-intentioned voice of the speaker. Doled out is sanguine, youth-oriented advice such as how to make friends in a new city ('It's useful to identify what you like to do'), why going to parties should be fun and constructive, and the importance of placing chairs as close to the stage as possible ('Everyone should know these things'). The platitudes are self-explanatory, but prove so understated as to be frequently hilarious. Examples are observations on manners and teaching an audience to ask good questions ('What I warn people against is feelings of pride'). During the long-winded account of how he formed a neighborhood residents' association to block the opening of noisy bars, Glouberman concludes with a healthy endorsement of compromise—a realization that surprised even himself. Eliminating antagonism is one of the author's pets, as well as learning how to be decisive (like when quitting smoking) and simply accept unhappiness as an ongoing state of striving. As part of his work, he shares many tips on playing charades and easing communication with other games, like play fighting; overall, he dispenses the non-didactic wisdom of an avuncular sage."—Publishers Weekly

"The ethos that emerges from The Chairs Are Where the People Go -- and I say "emerges" because it is only ever implicit --offers a possible way out of America's inwardly focused mess. Glouberman and Heti never admonish or direct, but as a reader, seeing empathy in practice is helpful and encouraging -- even, and maybe especially, if it's demonstrated through an improv game." ?Jessica Gross, The Rumpus

"[The Chairs Are Where the People Go] almost makes me think of Demetri Martin giving up on being a comedian, and becoming a philosopher." ?Jason Diamond, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"The Chairs Are Where The People Go is sort of an Advanced Urban Studies, about the aesthetics of the everyday, and how to get along with everyone else while learning to enjoy yourself more creatively. For someone like me who hates the genre (is it a genre?), it does for self-help books what Moby Dick did for the novel." --Chris Estey,

"But these brief essays -- most are just a page or two long -- pile onto each other in an interesting, even hypnotic fashion (that's Heti's hand at work). As Glouberman explains why he enjoys making actors babble gibberish at each other, and as he lists some of the most difficult charades clues he's ever encountered (including Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Guam, and 1984), you start to, grudgingly at first, fall for the guy . . . When you get near the end of Chairs, you realize that all the stories have a common theme: Glouberman is most interested in teaching people how to communicate. That's a decidedly urban goal—cities would not be tolerable places without effective communication?but it's also a beautifully human goal. What Glouberman has learned from teaching and finding compromises and community with his neighbors can be used everywhere, to make life better for everyone. Without the struggle to find food or to simply stay alive, he can focus on bettering the fundamental glue that holds us all together." -- Paul Constant, The Stranger

"There is definitely something about Misha Glouberman that makes us want to hang out inside his head for a little while." -- Renee Ghert-Zand, The Forward

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

1. People's Protective Bubbles Are Okay

I hear people complain that, for instance, in this city, people don't say hi on the street or make eye contact on the subway. And people try to remedy this problem by doing public art projects...

Read the full excerpt




  • Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti

  • Misha Glouberman is a performer, facilitator, and artist who lives in Toronto.

    Sheila Heti is the author of three books of fiction: The Middle Stories, Ticknor, and How Should a Person Be?. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney's, n + 1, and The Guardian. She regularly conducts interviews for The Believer.

  • Misha Glouberman Photo courtesy the author. Glouberman with co-author Sheila Heti.
    Misha Glouberman
  • Sheila Heti Sylvia Plachy
    Sheila Heti