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How Did I Get Here?

Making Peace with the Road Not Taken

Jesse Browner

Book

Torn between his creative calling and a full-time civil service job, Jesse Browner—a novelist who found himself in the midst of the proverbial midlife crisis—had a hard question to answer: Have I lived the life I intended?

And more to the point, if he hadn’t, was that really so bad?

In How Did I Get Here? Browner takes an unflinching look at the life that led him to this moment of existential doubt, asking 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, freer, and truer to ourselves.

Sketching portraits of himself at five distinct phases of his life—ambition, love, work, fulfillment, and wisdom—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, successes, and 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.

Author

Jesse Browner

Jesse Browner is the author of six books, including The Uncertain Hour and Everything Happens Today. He lives and works in New York City.

Reviews

“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

“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

“A beautifully written, erudite, and thought-provoking examination of the underpinnings of a creative life.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Exceptional.” Library Journal

“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

By turns hilarious, profound, and unexpected, [Browner] 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. —Karen Karbo, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Wistful, emboldening, questioning, provocative, and whimsical... Browner understands that there are many ways to get to where one wants to be. He offers inspiration on both literary and personal levels.” Booklist