Thrumming along underneath all this, animating the book, is Attenberg’s life’s organizing principle: the drive to become a writer. She brings to the subject her gifts as a novelist: a fierce impulse toward honesty, a companionably cranky voice and an interest in the complicated, bobbing and weaving ways in which people navigate their desires ... Rarely do contemporary writers allow themselves to speak so freely about their careers; more commonly we see a lot of disaffection about the idea of ambition itself. Attenberg’s objectives, her pride and her desire fill every page of this book. I, for one, found it a relief. She has the writer’s fine-tuned sense of her own place in the literary cosmos ... I Came All This Way to Meet You is at its most affecting when Attenberg follows the darker thread of her own experience ... My main complaint about this one is structural: I Came All This Way to Meet You is arranged as a memoir in essays. This is not automatically a bad thing, but recently too many writers (and editors) have seemed to use this format as a way to dodge the exigencies of actual storytelling ... Her voice and her frankness lead the way through what can sometimes feel like a maze — but the satisfactions are thick on the ground, and we follow. And when we are finished, we hold in our hands the promised ending, the book itself.
[Attenberg's] distinctive, personable voice, which shines on social media and in her writing-focused newsletters, gets a full-on outing here, with intimate glimpses of her youth ... This is a book of journeys: she road-trips on book tour; she lives in Seattle, in Manhattan, in New Orleans; she goes to Portugal and Sicily and Hong Kong, and on family trips to the East coast. But the most tangible and pleasurable journey is the one in which she describes discovering her voice, her yearning for agency, and the myriad ways in which she achieves that desire ... That knowing humor flavors her memoir ... pretty much all the anecdotes involving her family — people for the most part so clearly warm and inquisitive, interested and committed — left me wanting more of their stories as well as more of hers ... a book about the making of writer in the best possible way — accessible, funny, illuminating. It’s a book about kindness and grief, joy and forgiveness, failures, challenges, mistakes, and hope. It’s also a terrific ode to good art and true friendship. ''Books are your love language,'' a friend tells Attenberg. Which, as far as I’m concerned, makes I Came All This Way to Meet You one hell of a terrific love letter.
I don’t mean it as a criticism when I say that Attenberg’s book has an untidy, artless structure. Yes, its narrative, which moves repeatedly back and forth in time, is often in danger of seeming repetitive, and perhaps it comes with one too many Zoom meetings ... But such restlessness reflects its subject matter ... Her cheeriness – her absolute disdain for self-pity – only serves to make the sad parts of her book seem the more plangent ... Parts of this work do border on self-obsession ... She’s very funny, and it’s this that makes her marvellous.
All This Way often has a self-deprecating, look-back-and-laugh feel, as she recalls enduring the most absurd parts of her starving-artist days, from low-attended readings to the pushy boyfriend who surprised her with a sex toy ... Attenberg is at her strongest when she’s writing deep into that physical experience. Leering, groping men on trains across Europe prompted her to dress as a man for a time. A sexual assault in college by a fellow aspiring writer prompts a lacerating chapter on storytelling, unbalanced male and female writing reputations, and the pressure to suppress stories ... All This Way is constructed from various personal essays she’s written in recent years, which gives it a loose, sometimes ungainly feel. Rather than shape her childhood, career milestones, or stints in Brooklyn and New Orleans into an arc, she’s content to let the stitches show. But when her writing is at its liveliest, the book’s looseness just feels on-brand.
... a paean to persistence ... It is also the kind of book that will interest some people very much – especially aspiring writers. Others, to whom her work is less familiar, perhaps not so much ... generally warmer and more confessional than Attenberg’s novels but shares with her fiction a tendency to jump around in time. While in her novels these chronological leaps add layering and foreshadowing, here they lead to sometimes disorienting or bothersome repetitions ... While some of her travelogues feel like filler material, she’s come a long way, and is eager to share her route.
The essays have little narrative throughline, thrusting us forward and back in time, touching on topics as disparate as couchsurfing to book reviews to the buildup and breakdown of relationships. The constant here is Attenberg herself, and the collection is all the stronger for it ... Attenberg is at her most evocative when she digs into details, and details abound in this collection ... Each essay is loosely structured around a single topic, but each tends to meander from anecdote to anecdote. In most of these, Attenberg’s casual yet incisive voice shines through, as if we’re sharing stories in a cozy room with glasses of wine in hand. However, this does not mean that the content itself is always breezy ... A drawback lies perhaps more in expectation than quality. For those expecting a collection more overtly about writing, this may read disappointing ... It is a craft book in that it leads by example, shows us a writing life and a devotion to craft that we can all aspire to, even if we never traverse the world. Even though my life is on a very different path from Attenberg’s despite our shared origins, this is something I can take with me in my own practice.
[Attenberg] weaves together stories from her childhood with moments of raw self-examination and social critique in ways that pull her readers close to her, while always reminding them that they cannot truly share in the struggle, the fight that makes her stories so urgent ... What Attenberg has learned about being a writer and a human offers a valuable lesson for readers seeking wholeness, healing, self-expression, and strength. The result is a humorous memoir of transformation that will delight a range of readers.
Attenberg tends to make friends wherever she goes, which is no surprise given that her frank and charming writing creates an intimacy with the reader. A fantastic choice for those who love writers’ memoirs, such as Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018), or an autobiographical ode to single ladies like Glynnis MacNicol’s No One Tells You This (2018).
... sparkling ... vivid essays ... The tension between rootedness and wanderlust makes for brisk descriptions of locale ... Though her narrative flits around in time and space, her writing emerges as a bedrock from which to both grow and settle into ... Tilted or upright, Attenberg’s story shines with wit and empathy.
Attenberg offers fans of her fiction the opportunity to get to know her more intimately ... Though she is 'a better person now,' she 'will never be perfect.' Nobody is, but readers of the author’s wonderful novels may expect more ... The virtues of Attenberg's fiction—story, characters, black humor—are largely missing in her first nonfiction book.