How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
Japanese Beetle Gobbling Garden Flowers | Erica Robbin
Japanese Beetle Gobbling My Garden Flowers

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him.

In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend.

He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really appreciated this one.

I read it for Life’s Library Book Club.

It was certainly different than what I expected and I’d recommend it for anyone looking to write in general and for gaining insight into other people’s life experiences. It has useful information and is a book that has essays that each have different tone and approach that would be great considerations for style. For advice, example, perspective. It’s a heavy and vulnerable read, one you’ll want to set aside ample time for or one you’ll want to devote making room in your emotional space for.

It would make a great pick for writing circles and book clubs wanting to explore a very reflective, naive, age-specific/life stage, pondering of how the author viewed and processed the world around him as a teen which shaped him into adulthood as he retells it. Journeying with him and learning how he fit into the world, development of self, cultural identity, social class, sexuality, sexual maturity as a whole, belonging. Fitting in. Not only loss, but rejection.

I honestly didn’t know about this one at first. A battle of my expectations. Times I thought wow this is genius other times I was like what in the world am I reading?

The Story
I won’t speak too much about the content from the autobiographical part for sake of spoiling it. I initially went into it without taking in the blurb which I think gave me a fresh dive into it during the initial chapter. Apart from his victories/tragedies I didn’t feel like I got to know the author, but it came full circle toward the end so if you’re thinking about DNFing the book at any point, hang in there.

The content as far as writing advice was very different. Approach at times was quite frustrating for me, but wasn’t without purpose. It is a unique take on a book titled “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays.” It was a unique book for an autobiography/memoir. It turned into an almost telling a story within a story about a story while writing a story which I quite enjoyed overall.

The Writing
Really enjoyed his writing style overall when he was writing. Some essays in and of themselves were a bit disjointed but I think that may have been deliberate to show different takes on writing style? Overall I loved the style which was to the point, not overly descriptive, yet drew clever detail/simile out of the scene. Simplicity by choosing just a few, accurate and profound concepts. He is super talented.


At times sort of less optimistic and my thoughts about certain essays reflect that in some ways. I didn’t know the last chapter would take a turn like it did at the beginning, a bit jarring mention of religion and politics, and the last paragraphs left me a bit longing, but perhaps that was the point?

A lot of writing gems both subtle and overt. A lot memory retrieval for me from a writing aspect.

Side note, my favorite Stephen King novel and movie is also Firestarter.

View all my reviews

Deckled Edges, always a nice touch.

Grab some coffee or tea and Join Our Conversation!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest from the Blog

Love and Saffron by Kim Fay

The #1 Indie Next Pick, in the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road and Meet Me at the Museum, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.  When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan […]

Latest from the Blog

Estée Lauder A Beautiful Life by Aerin Lauder, Jane Lauder

Estée Lauder Youth-Dew Dusting Powder Box Absolutely captivating, with opulent flowers, rich spices, precious woods. Estée Lauder Free 7-Piece GiftYours with any purchase! Life in Beauty “Age is an irrelevancy to every woman. Glow is the essence of beauty, and it’s the absence of radiance that diminishes beauty-at any age.” ~Estée Lauder WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE […]

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father. Western Australia, 1886. After months at sea, a […]

Latest from the Blog

Latest from the Blog

100 Plants to Feed the Birds by Laura Erickson

Synopsis The growing group of bird enthusiasts who enjoy feeding and watching their feathered friends  will learn how they can expand their activity and help address the pressing issue of habitat loss with 100 Plants to Feed the Birds.   In-depth profiles offer planting and care guidance for 100 native plant species that provide food and shelter […]

%d bloggers like this: