Reading Jami Attenberg is like hanging out with a friend who encourages you—through their own example—to be your messy, vibrant, glorious self. Attenberg’s voice is equal parts wise auntie and wise-ass, sincere and profane, whether on social media or in any of her seven increasingly well-received novels (most recently, All This Could Be Yours in 2019). With I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writing Myself Home, Attenberg turns to memoir to explore the hustle and chutzpah with which she has built a successful career as a working writer.
Writing isn’t magic, but it can do magical things. The preface to I Came All This Way to Meet You reminds us of this in an inspiring manifesto about the power of committing to the work of writing. Creating a life of travel and work, rather than a life more domestic and rooted, requires creativity and grit, especially as we age, and especially for women. For Attenberg, in lieu of traditional stability, writing became the portable home she always returned to.
Attenberg’s travels around the country to promote her books form the backbone of this book, which is written as a series of short, interlinked essays that touch on themes of work, solitude, friendship, heartbreak, risk and itinerancy. A stunning scene in a chapel constructed out of bones in Portugal exemplifies the beauty and peril of the writer’s life. Communing with the dead offers the writer stories and companionship; connecting with the living can be far more difficult.
Attenberg’s memoir ends in New Orleans, that magical city of eccentricity and art, where she has only recently created a home for herself and her dog, Sid. The “ultimate privilege,” Attenberg finds, is to have a house she can open up to visiting friends, returning the favor from her own periods of wandering. Attenberg extends this hospitality to her readers, too, as she invites us into this funny, perceptive portrait of a life well-lived.