A literary exploration that asks seeks to answer the question: Have I lived the life I intended?
Jesse Browner, a novelist with a full-time job at the United Nations, has written a book reminiscent of the Talking Heads classic song "Once in a Lifetime." Based on an essay he wrote for Poets and Writers Magazine, Browner asks hard questions about life choices, about the tendency to believe there is a parallel life that might have been more fulfilling or more free. He wonders: Is the true artist made by single-minded devotion to his craft? Do we compromise our dreams in service to responsibilities to family and jobs?
These questions prompted Browner to take a hard look at himself and the evolution that brought him to this moment of existential doubt. In How Did I Get Here? he divides his adult life into five distinct phases—ambition, love, work, fulfillment, and serenity. Sketching portraits of himself at every stage, he looks for idiosyncrasies, commonalities, and clues—signposts that lead him to today. He also draws on the lives of others, from Franz Kafka to his sister to indie rocker Elliott Smith, in search of understanding. What he finds in his courageous quest is bravely honest and inspiring, touching on what it means to live a life with intention and meaning.
“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!
“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
“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 that there are many ways to get to where one wants to be. He offers inspiration on both literary and personal levels.” —Booklist
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