How Did I Get Here?
HarperCollins, June 2015
A literary exploration that seeks to answer the question: Have I lived the life I intended?
Based on an essay he wrote for Poets & Writers magazine, Jesse Browner, a novelist who finds himself torn between his creative calling and a full-time job in the civil service, asks hard questions about the choices life imposes on us, and our tendency to believe in a parallel, alternative existence where we might have felt more fulfilled, more free, more true to ourselves. He wonders: Is the genuine artist made by single-minded devotion to his craft? Do we compromise our dreams in service to family and work? In the face of life's inevitable disappointments, how do we learn to reassess our own achievements and live without regret?
These questions prompted Browner to take a hard look at the lifelong journey that brought him to this moment of existential doubt. He divides his adult life into five distinct phases: ambition, love, work, fulfillment, and wisdom. Sketching portraits of himself at each stage, he looks for the idiosyncrasies, blind spots, and commonalities that led him to question every assumption he has ever made about who he is and the nature of his ambitions, his successes, and his failures. He also draws on the lives of others, from Franz Kafka to indie rocker Elliott Smith to his own sister, in search of understanding and guidance. What he finds in his courageous quest is inspiring and honest—sometimes brutally so—touching on what it means to live a life with intention and meaning.
Praise for How Did I Get Here?
"How Did I Get Here?, by turns hilarious, profound, and unexpected, leaves us to understand that while our lives may have wound up on a different shore than the one we'd set our sights on, that's not such a bad thing. The only possible us is the us who happened."
— The Los Angeles Review of Books (read the full review here)
"Jesse Browner's extraordinary inquiry into the path taken is hilarious, moving, and always wonderful. Sometimes baffled, sometimes amused, sometimes horrified, he offers a mid-way meditation on a life half-lived and clears, for himself and the reader, a new space of hope."
— Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland and The Dog
"A beautifully crafted, soul-searching investigation that cannot leave us unmoved…Jesse Browner breaks wide open our tendency to let life ebb away in a complacent opacity, allowing essential questions to surge forth: should I seek fame, wealth and power or freedom, creativity and fulfillment?" — Matthieu Ricard, author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
"A beautifully written, erudite, and thought-provoking examination of the underpinnings of a creative life." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Could this book be any more intriguing? Wise, self-effacing, sweet, and scorning, to our great privilege, Jesse Browner, on the hallowed path of the classic seeker, rends open his heart and mind. How lucky we are to be invited on his hero's journey!"
— Joel Rose, author of The Blackest Bird and co-author of Get Jiro!
"Literarily informed and philosophically engaged, Browner's essays are infused with a rueful ambivalence as well as an all-too-human longing for possible pasts and futures." — Kirkus Reviews
"Wistful, emboldening, questioning, provocative, and whimsical... Browner understands thatthere are many ways to get to where one wants to be. He offers inspiration on both literary and personal levels." — Booklist
"Exceptional." — Library Journal