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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

An essay collection exploring his education as a man, writer, and activist-and how we form our identities in life and in art.

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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.

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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.

POV/Tense
Interesting.

Tone
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 is also Firestarter.

View all my reviews

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Deckled Edges, always a nice touch.
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