How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
From the author of The Queen of the Night, an essay collection exploring his education as a man, writer, and activist—and how we form our identities in life and in art. As a novelist, Alexander Chee has been described as “masterful” by Roxane Gay, “incomparable” by Junot Díaz, and “incendiary” by the New York Times. With How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, his first collection of nonfiction, he’s sure to secure his place as one of the finest essayists of his generation as well.  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.   By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel Details

TitleHow to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Author
ReleaseApr 17th, 2018
PublisherMariner Books
ISBN-139781328764522
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Language

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel Review

  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    I do not read many books of essays even though I read a lot of essays online. There's a big difference between reading one personal essay and reading over a dozen by the same person, there are not many writers I trust that much. But I do trust Alexander Chee that much and my trust yielded significant dividends with this beautiful, complex, and moving collection.With an entire book of mostly quite personal essays you may wonder how a person may have this much to say and not just write a memoir. I I do not read many books of essays even though I read a lot of essays online. There's a big difference between reading one personal essay and reading over a dozen by the same person, there are not many writers I trust that much. But I do trust Alexander Chee that much and my trust yielded significant dividends with this beautiful, complex, and moving collection.With an entire book of mostly quite personal essays you may wonder how a person may have this much to say and not just write a memoir. I understand the impulse, but I don't think these stories would be as successful as they are in that format. The essay, like the short story, can zero in on one thing and explore it in relation to many other things. Here, the kinds of things that may get lost in a memoir that is more about things happening get to be examined in great detail. One person, one event, one idea is so much more than a step along the way in a person's life and Chee opens up so many of them here that I feel I've never before encountered so much of one person's self in any one book before. And I've read a lot of memoirs. We are so much more than what happens to us.I should also add that I am currently writing a semi-autobiographical novel and there are several essays here on writing and specifically on writing something about your own experiences (which Chee did in his first novel, EDINBURGH). While I loved everything in this book, those were the essays that hit me in the gut. There was much highlighting. Not every writer is good at talking about writing, the writing process, and what it feels like. Maybe it's just because of where I am right now and my own investment in my own book, but wow did I finish this book feeling like I had my own mini-MFA on how to move forward with my own terrifying project.If you have read Chee before, you will encounter the same intelligence, the same deliberate and fascinating prose you have come to expect, and above all the same deep empathy and emotion.
    more
  • Abdal
    January 1, 1970
    I'm now emotionally invested in making sure our planet makes it to (April) 2018.Oct 24/: Love the cover art. Feels like confirmation that we've got an instant classic on our hands, girls.
  • Vivek Tejuja
    January 1, 1970
    It isn’t easy to write a book of essays that charts life. And when you come across a work that is so lucid, questions the world and has so many identities rolled into itself, that you just have to sit up, take notice and devour it cover to cover. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” by Alexander Chee is one such collection of finest essays of our times and that is mainly because it is as honest as it can get. There is something about books that come from the heart – they manage to ge It isn’t easy to write a book of essays that charts life. And when you come across a work that is so lucid, questions the world and has so many identities rolled into itself, that you just have to sit up, take notice and devour it cover to cover. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” by Alexander Chee is one such collection of finest essays of our times and that is mainly because it is as honest as it can get. There is something about books that come from the heart – they manage to get through to you breaking all pretense and that’s what this collection of essays does to you. It gets through. Alexander Chee’s writing was only known to me through his earlier literary fiction works, “Edinburgh” and “The Queen of the Night” which I loved immensely. This is his foray into non-fiction and I just hope that he continues writing many such essays. What I found a notch above the essay collections I have read in the past couple of months in this one was just the candid and heartwarming way in which they are written. Chee doesn’t shy from talking about his life, his struggles and his perception of the world at large. When you write non-fiction, you become more susceptible to judgment than when you write fiction. Everyone may not have an opinion about the storyline or characters but one sure does have an opinion (maybe more) on the world and its issues. Chee’s essays range from growing-up in America and how different identities take over his life – a son, a Korean American, a gay man, a student, a teacher and a novelist amongst others. I loved the way he connected his life to his country and its issues and everything just seemed one. For instance, the section on AIDS and then again on 9/11 were most hard-hitting to me. When he speaks of literature (there are so many references throughout the book), you just want to sit up and listen. I for one, remember re-reading so many passages about writing and what it takes to be a writer. Alexander Chee’s essays are wry, real, political (everything is political in today’s time and age), and above all makes us ask questions of art and life and what happens to it all, when they come under attack. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” is hands down one of the best essay collections of 2018 and I am not speaking too soon.
    more
  • Erica
    January 1, 1970
    a beautiful collection of essays on writing, identity, activism, & trauma. it’s both completely romantic and absolutely unromantic. i almost want to go back to undergrad and study literature, definitely want to plant a rose garden and throw myself back into writing and art.(cw sexual abuse.)
    more
  • Carolee Wheeler
    January 1, 1970
    Breathe in this sadness, kindness, compassion, pain, and uncertainty. Breathe out. Breathe in. This is a beautiful collection.
  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    “To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” - “On Becoming an American Writer,” Alexander CheeY’all, mark 4/24/18 on your calendar, get your pre-order in at your bookseller. Alexander Chee’s new collection of essays is stellar beyond words, this single quote one of the many sentences he wrote that just stick in the mind like a tiny bit of grit, to be worked over and polished and revisited. The order of essays builds over the course of the book to a moving meditatio “To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” - “On Becoming an American Writer,” Alexander CheeY’all, mark 4/24/18 on your calendar, get your pre-order in at your bookseller. Alexander Chee’s new collection of essays is stellar beyond words, this single quote one of the many sentences he wrote that just stick in the mind like a tiny bit of grit, to be worked over and polished and revisited. The order of essays builds over the course of the book to a moving meditation on what it means to be an American writer, especially at this present time. Bravo, Alexander. 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
    more
  • Lissa
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve not read an of Chee’s novels, which is a shame because he writes succinctly and beautifully. I really loved this collection of essays about his early writing career, other writers who inspired him and current events that affected his work. I don’t think that I skimmed over a single one of these and I definitely will go on to read his other work. I received a digital ARC of this book through Edelweiss.
    more
  • Dana
    January 1, 1970
    So, so, so, so, so good.
  • Bookoisseur
    January 1, 1970
    Superb. Read it immediately. Grab a pen, you'll want to mark it up and remember things. It made me cry at least twice on the subway, and once at home.
  • Monika
    January 1, 1970
    Chee's novel The Queen of the Night was my favourite book of 2016, so when I heard that he was writing a collection of essays I was very excited. I was even more thrilled when I was approved for the ARC. Chee moves brilliantly and skillfully from his time as an AIDS activist to his attempts to grow a rose garden with grace and passion. It is political, literary, and incredibly moving and powerful. I cannot recommend this enough.Special thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this ahead of it Chee's novel The Queen of the Night was my favourite book of 2016, so when I heard that he was writing a collection of essays I was very excited. I was even more thrilled when I was approved for the ARC. Chee moves brilliantly and skillfully from his time as an AIDS activist to his attempts to grow a rose garden with grace and passion. It is political, literary, and incredibly moving and powerful. I cannot recommend this enough.Special thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this ahead of its publication, which will be on April 17th.
    more
  • Mary B.
    January 1, 1970
    Novelist Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night, is at his best when he explores the writing life—the thread that ties these 16 various essays together. Struggling writers can take instruction and consolation from much of the author’s hard-earned knowledge, as offered in such pieces as “100 Things About Writing a Novel” and “My Parade,” the latter which describes his time at and the benefits of attending the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop--especially timely as MFA programs have come Novelist Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night, is at his best when he explores the writing life—the thread that ties these 16 various essays together. Struggling writers can take instruction and consolation from much of the author’s hard-earned knowledge, as offered in such pieces as “100 Things About Writing a Novel” and “My Parade,” the latter which describes his time at and the benefits of attending the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop--especially timely as MFA programs have come under increasing criticism as they’ve grown in popularity. “The Autobiography of My Novel” offers up the following well-turned wisdom that will resonate with experienced fiction writers: “I tried to understand if I had made a choice about what to write. But instead it seemed to me if anyone had made a choice, the novel had, choosing me like I was a door and walking through me out into the world.”As memoir, the collection is a bit uneven in quality, and individual essays have a somewhat dry, disjointed narrative style. But right at the moment the reader is tempted to set the book aside, Chee doles out some not-to-be-missed witticisms and impactful insights that disrupt and challenge our assumptions about people and the world’s workings. As a gay Korean-American who came out in the midst of the AIDS crisis, Chee has overcome more than his share of obstacles. About that era in San Francisco he writes,” My time there felt more like a preview of the end of the world.” And his homosexuality becomes pivotal in “Mr. & Mrs. B.,” when he sees—and allows us to see, too--the hardened core of the popular conservative commentator William F. Buckley and his wife while working for the couple as a caterer. Plenty of quirky, off-the-beaten-path anecdotes fill these essays, but each speaks to the larger truths each of us must confront about ourselves and how we choose to proceed in the world. “The Querent” fascinatingly explores psychic-ability experiments Chee undertook at various points in his life, starting in 7th grade, and even explains how the Tarot can be used as a heuristic in writing fiction. He concludes that “There are two kinds of people, I think: those who want to know the future and those who do not.” Taken together, these essays delve deeply into the effects that knowing and being known have had on the author.This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy provided by the publisher.
    more
  • Michelle Hart
    January 1, 1970
    My fondest memory of my undergraduate creative writing class was reading lorrie moore's "how to be a writer" and realizing that she was at all telling the reader how to be a writer, but how SHE became a writer, a recognition of the impossibility of prescriptive success. it is simply a treatise on the value of unique experiences. truly excellent, emotional writing comes from mining your own particular experiences and feelings for something that universally resonates. alexander chee's essay collec My fondest memory of my undergraduate creative writing class was reading lorrie moore's "how to be a writer" and realizing that she was at all telling the reader how to be a writer, but how SHE became a writer, a recognition of the impossibility of prescriptive success. it is simply a treatise on the value of unique experiences. truly excellent, emotional writing comes from mining your own particular experiences and feelings for something that universally resonates. alexander chee's essay collection accomplishes this to an even fuller degree than moore's story. every one of these essays is filled with grace and wit. you will not learn how to become a writer when reading this book, but you will become privy to one of the most beautiful minds working today.
    more
  • s kim
    January 1, 1970
    This book is insanely good. I devoured it, sneaking in paragraphs at work, unable to let go of it even as I cooked dinner, so intent on finishing it by day's end. "Unique" doesn't fully capture what the essays collected here embody, although they are that, essentially--Alexander Chee is, after all, the first openly gay Korean American writer, and that he is a kind of writer that has no precedence shows throughout the book, which makes him all the more brave for writing it. But the book is also h This book is insanely good. I devoured it, sneaking in paragraphs at work, unable to let go of it even as I cooked dinner, so intent on finishing it by day's end. "Unique" doesn't fully capture what the essays collected here embody, although they are that, essentially--Alexander Chee is, after all, the first openly gay Korean American writer, and that he is a kind of writer that has no precedence shows throughout the book, which makes him all the more brave for writing it. But the book is also humble, forthcoming, and so versatile that it's hard to believe one man can encompass so much, and so much history at that too! This book has uplifted me more than any other book I've read recently, although it is riddled with dark, dark stuff, too, and this is the book that will guide me, and probably you too, by showing that it can be done, that it has been done, whatever kind of seemingly insurmountable monster "it" represents to all of us.
    more
  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    This was my first experience with Alexander Chee, and I feel like I have been missing out. Like any essay collection, there were some that I didn’t feel worked quite a s well, but most were fantastic. Chee has a way of seeming conversational without being informal; I felt like I was hearing stories from a good friend in a more organized way. I thoroughly enjoyed the voice of these essays. At first, I felt like the collection was a bit disjointed and felt scattered. However, looking at the collec This was my first experience with Alexander Chee, and I feel like I have been missing out. Like any essay collection, there were some that I didn’t feel worked quite a s well, but most were fantastic. Chee has a way of seeming conversational without being informal; I felt like I was hearing stories from a good friend in a more organized way. I thoroughly enjoyed the voice of these essays. At first, I felt like the collection was a bit disjointed and felt scattered. However, looking at the collection as a whole, it made sense as a collection of a life: of discovering and affirming identity. I think this collection would be especially wonderful for aspiriring writers and creators. Beyond the technical writing advice, the last essay on the importance of creation and the arts, especially in our current state of chaos and turmoil was powerful. Even as a non-artist, it resonated with me. Thank you to Netgalley for sending me an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
    more
  • V
    January 1, 1970
    This essay collection is stellar. There are a few (VERY FEW) duds, which are easily overruled by the excellence of literally every other piece in the book. Highly recommended for writers, creatives, and people who want to empathize with other people. 4.5 stars.
    more
  • Christina
    January 1, 1970
    like a glass of water for my heart
  • Elese
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 stars. Beautiful writing often on the subject of writing. Several of the essays were 5++ stars.
  • Rhonda Lomazow
    January 1, 1970
    A moving raw real eye opening collection of essays,Alexander openly shares his emotional life experiences .Highly recommend.
Write a review