On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives

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A captivating book about the emotional and literary power of the lives we might have lived had our chances or choices been different.

We each live one life, formed by paths taken and untaken. Choosing a job, getting married, deciding on a place to live or whether to have children―every decision precludes another. But what if you’d gone the other way? It can be a seductive thought, even a haunting one.

Andrew H. Miller illuminates this theme of modern culture: the allure of the alternate self. From Robert Frost to Sharon Olds, Virginia Woolf to Ian McEwan, Jane Hirshfield to Carl Dennis, storytellers of every stripe write of the lives we didn’t have. What forces encourage us to think this way about ourselves, and to identify with fictional and poetic voices speaking from the shadows of what might have been? Not only poets and novelists, but psychologists and philosophers have much to say on this question. Miller finds wisdom in all these sources, revealing the beauty, the power, and the struggle of our unled lives.

In an elegant and provocative rumination, he lingers with other selves, listening to what they say. Peering down the path not taken can be frightening, but it has its rewards. On Not Being Someone Else offers the balm that when we confront our imaginary selves, we discover who we are.

Author: Andrew H. Miller

Hardback Published November 2020, 232 pages

“An expertly curated tour of regret and envy in literature…By approaching regret and envy from multiple angles, Miller’s insightful and moving book―both in his own discussion and in the tales he recounts―gently nudges us toward consolation. Yes, we might live only one among countless possible lives, and those we haven’t lived will haunt us. But, as Miller notes in conclusion, at least we have had the chance to live the one life that has been given to us.”Wall Street Journal

“Miller is charming company, both humanly and intellectually. He is onto something: the theme of unled lives, and the fascinating idea that fiction intensifies the sense of provisionality that attends all lives. An extremely attractive book.”James Wood

On Not Being Someone Else reminds us just how alluring and confounding our singularity is and how, through literature, we make sense of being ourselves. To be someone―to be anyone―is about being someone and not being someone else. Miller’s amused and inspired book is utterly compelling about this, and about so much else.”Adam Phillips, author of One Way and Another: New and Selected Essays

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