The Chairs Are Where the People Go

If you're searching for a gift for that student who is ending her academic career or about to take a job in a strange new city, you could do worse than this modest, idiosyncratic version of an urban survival manual. According to his collaborator, Sheila Heti, The Chairs Are Where the People Go is an attempt to capture everything Misha Glouberman, a Canadian "instructor in improvised music and theater," knows. On the evidence of what's contained here, this slim volume only scratches the surface of his fertile mind.

The book offers 71 short selections on an eclectic assortment of topics, from an imaginative and highly satisfying solution to the conundrum of whether to give up a seat on a crowded subway to helpful tips for making new friends as an adult to an unusual method of quitting smoking (it involves wearing a suit). Glouberman is consistently reasonable, self-effacing and creative as he poses at least tentative solutions to these dilemmas, while discoursing on thornier and more abstract subjects, like whether monogamy is a trick or how we might go about creating meaningful ritual to serve a secular society.

If you are not a fan of the game of charades or don't participate in courses on improvisation, you may find this volume a bit skewed toward those topics. But even the frothier pieces contain small gems of wisdom, like this advice to students who don't feel up to attending one of his classes: "If I can convince them to come to the class, they inevitably overcome their self-diagnosed state of not being in the right mood for it." --Harvey Freedenberg

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