Alphabetical Diaries

Sheila Heti

French paperback with flaps, 168 pages | Audiobook read by Kate Berlant
Published 6 February 2024

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Sheila Heti collected half a million words from a decade’s worth of journals, put them in a spreadsheet, and sorted them alphabetically. She spent the next ten years cutting and refining, and was left with 60,000 words of brilliance and mayhem, joy and sorrow. These are her alphabetical diaries.

‘I think Alphabetical Diaries by Sheila Heti is a future classic. A great concept executed perfectly.’
— Zadie Smith, author of The Fraud

‘It’s also thrilling, very funny, often filthy, and a surprisingly powerful weapon against loneliness, at least for this reader. How it achieves all this has to do with the sentences themselves, but even more than that with the unlikelihood of their arrangement; it’s the sentences’ crackpot proximity to one another that makes them sing (admittedly a very odd song)…. Alphabetical Diaries ends up, I think, in truly surprising territory. Heti has outsourced authorship to the alphabet; it is in charge of arranging the material; it supersedes time itself. In this way, Heti disrupts the tidying up of identity that memoirists unconsciously perform.’
Claire Dederer, Guardian

‘In embracing life’s randomness and so thoroughly disrupting the urge to impose, through prose, order and a sense of the evolving self, [Heti] ultimately reveals just how solid our innate characteristics are and how irrepressible narrative can be.’
Hephzibah Anderson, Observer

‘[A] pointillist description of the raging, vacillating, euphoric, despairing turbulence of Heti’s mind…. Heti has turned the pitfalls of the diary form – the relentless self-absorption, the combination of trivia and pathos – into a dazzling aesthetic virtue. Like a hologram, this book refracts an endlessly shifting light.’
Claire Allfree, Telegraph

‘The rhythms and repetitions create a lyrical effect, elevating the often prosaic nature of diary entries…The fun comes from reading the sentences as something cumulative, an effect that shouldn’t work, yet often does.’
Susie Mesure, Financial Times

‘I found reading Alphabetical Diaries to be a profound experience… There is something of Anaïs Nin’s journals in Alphabetical Diaries, and of Iris Murdoch’s letters, and of Edna O’Brien’s memoirs. Something locked-in and bristling. Heti is wrestling openly with the things that matter.’
— Dwight Garner, New York Times

‘Sheila Heti keeps transforming my idea of writing. Her Alphabetical Diaries isn’t just dirty and funny and poignant; it reproposes everything you thought about a self and the way time passes.’
— Adam Thirlwell, author of The Future Future

Alphabetical Diaries is a testament to Heti’s artistic power. She gently leads the reader into new dimensions of language previously undiscovered. Beautiful and uncompromising.’
— Marlowe Granados, author of Happy Hour

‘A book that is in many ways is an ode to the sentence; from the muscle of single line to the power that comes with accrual. An immersive and hugely entertaining read.’
— Sinéad Gleeson author of Constellations

‘I am drawn to Sheila Heti’s writing like a moth to a flame and Alphabetical Diaries is amongst the most affecting, exquisite books I’ve ever encountered. It is, simply put, utterly and startlingly good. Heti writes so creaturely, so bodily, that it feels like a whole new genre is being formed as we read.’
— Kerri ní Dochartaigh author of Cacophony of Bone

‘I’ll read anything Sheila Heti writes.’
— Lauren Oyler, author of Fake Accounts

‘I tend to succumb to the soft imperative of Heti’s project as an artist: to be as open-hearted of a reader as she is as a writer, to go with her gratefully into this meeting of childlike wonder, existential dread, and that near-constant horniness. In fact, it may be this hunger that holds the whole book together, those basic cravings that we all experience in one way or another, those desires so many of us tally in private, thinking they make us particular when they actually make us human.’
Catherine Lacey, Bookforum

‘Heti writes so creaturely, so bodily, that it feels a whole new genre is being formed as we read. Here she takes the ideas we had of her and her work and shakes them like the little glass snow globe that they are, leaving the letters as our only lantern here – her writing shining clearer for it all, somehow.’
Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Irish Times

‘The resulting book is exhilarating: both intimate and withholding, repetitive and generative, undeniably self-centred and yet moving beyond the self.’
— Anna Leszkiewicz, New Statesman

‘Whether it should be considered a memoir or something else entirely, Alphabetical Diaries looks at how we see ourselves and how we’d like to be seen.’
— Time

‘The way [Heti] has shuffled the deck of her life invites the reader to join her in both the hungry blindness of the present and the elegant luxury of hindsight – to make meaning out of the peg in the table, the phone call from her mother, even the green skirt.’
— Julia Berick, Los Angeles Review of Books

‘The alphabetized sentences give the book momentum and entertaining accidents of language create intriguing micro-stories on every page…. [R]eaders who enjoy Heti’s fiction should be enthralled. The picture of a committed, inventive, sincere writer and the times she lives in, which emerges from this experiment, is fascinating.’
Max Liu, i News

‘[O]ne of the freshest, funniest and most ingenious humans writing today … one of our best living authors.’
Becca Rothfeld, Washington Post

‘Heti’s books aim to be vessels for the transformation of reader and writer. She has spoken of writing a book that would be like a Richard Serra sculpture, which a reader might walk through in the same way that the writer has undergone its creation, not knowing exactly where it is heading or how it will end…. Though the formal challenges vary, Heti is always pressing at the membrane between life and art, beauty and ugliness’
— Parul Sehgal, New Yorker

‘Like Iris Murdoch’s novels, Heti’s are philosophically intense, although Heti’s work is pared down where Murdoch’s was Rabelaisian.’
— Dwight Garner, New York Times

‘Heti’s cerebral, romantic sensibility rises to the surface; a page and a half of maybes; a page of perhapses; lists of I wants, I wases, I wents and I wills…. [She] paints a life both touched by human connection yet with a loneliness at its center. Alphabetical Diaries is a feat of creativity, demonstrating Heti’s considered yet candid mastery of language and storytelling.’
Paula Lacey, The Skinny

‘By fragmenting and then formulaically rearranging these personal records, Heti has reinvigorated them as more than a journal, brought them to life as a fascinating book which highlights the consistency and inconsistencies of us all, how our minds flit from subject to subject to elsewhere. It is a warm-hearted, individual, exploration of what it is to be alive, what it is to be human.’
Rupert Loydall, Tears in the Fence

‘Sheila Heti is a master of form, constantly expanding the bounds of fiction while expertly defamiliarizing the experience of being human, ultimately drawing you closer to it.’

‘A profoundly unusual, experimental, yet engrossing work of not-quite-memoir…. For those who can understand her ambition beyond the form, settling into the rhythm of Heti’s poetic observations gives way to a rich narrative reward.’
Lauren Puckett-Pope, Elle

‘[It] is a compelling work that feels both formally brand new, and therefore disorientating, and uncannily familiar in its evocations of life…. As well as the energy and beauty of individual sentences, their juxtapositions are ingenious, truthful and often very funny…. Reading Alphabetical Diaries is like an intimate encounter with the soul of an insatiably curious, brilliant, contradictory, effervescent writer intensely engaged with words, ideas, art and life…. It is fascinating what emerges from this homage to the potency and capaciousness of the sentence. Alphabetical Diaries is a work of great humour, brilliance and beauty. I was entranced.’
— Jane Gleeson-White, Sydney Morning Herald

Praise for Pure Colour

Pure Colour is the apocalypse written as trance, a sleep-walker’s song about the end of all things … an original, a book that says something new for our difficult times.’
— Anne Enright, Guardian 

Praise for Motherhood

‘Sheila Heti has broken new ground.’
— Rachel Cusk, author of Second Place

Praise for How Should a Person Be?

‘Exhilarating … it made me want to write.’
— Sally Rooney, author of Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Sheila Heti is the author of eleven books, including the novels Pure ColourMotherhood, and How Should a Person Be?, which New York magazine deemed one of the New Classics of the twenty-first century. Her books have been translated into twenty-four languages. She lives in Toronto, Canada. Alphabetical Diaries is her first book with Fitzcarraldo Editions.