I’ve heard Alexander Chee’s name before but had not read anything by him, and then his latest book — How To Write An Autobiographical Novel – starting showing up in the places where I read about books. I’m glad I discovered it, and him, for his writing is lyrical at times, and powerfully moving. In this collection of essays, connected by the larger theme of exploring one’s life through fiction, Chee tumbles into the terrain of writing.
I won’t recount his difficult, yet interesting, life, but themes of race and cultural identity, gender politics, sexual orientation, literary mentorship, and ways of looking at your world through a lens of words all come to the surface in interesting ways.
Even with the title, I didn’t quite realize what Chee was up to until I finished the book, and thought deeply, later, about how his pieces fit together as advice for a writer grappling with identity and stories, and how to tell those stories (and the price you pay for using your own stories to write fiction). He also has some beautifully written sentences and passages. Even if he hadn’t noted that Annie Dillard was one of his professors, you would catch some of her style in his style (not a bad thing), although his focus of topic is very different from hers.
I’d recommend this book for those seeking to explore what it means to be a writer, but this book is probably more for adults than students below the university level.
Peace (between pages),