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Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,473 ratings  ·  289 reviews
What a long way it is from one life to another, yet why write if not for that distance?

Startlingly original and shining with quiet wisdom, this is a luminous account of a life lived with books. Written over two years while the author battled suicidal depression, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a painful and yet richly affirming examination of wh
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 21st 2017 by Random House
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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Mar 01, 2017 added it
Shelves: netgalley, unfinished
I'm not going to finish this book and I'm not going to rate it. I couldn't quite figure out what I was reading -- a memoir, thoughts about other authors, snippets of disconnected thoughts about life, death and writing? But it's hard for me to be too be harsh and give it a low rating, because Li appears to have written her book in the context of a serious depression, including more than one hospitalization. This book seems to be her attempt to figure things out through reflections on her life and ...more
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This memoir by Yiyun Li of her struggle with depression made me extremely uncomfortable. Not simply the despair and confusion that is so evident in the writing as well as in the format itself (there is no formal structure per se but rather a loose collection of experiences, recollections of books and writers important to her, and random thoughts) but rather I couldn't escape from the feeling that I was reading something I shouldn't be.
If a troubled person allows you the briefest glimpse into
In 2012, Chinese-American author Yiyun Li was hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideations. Out of this breakdown, after enough time had passed, Li was able to write about and share her experiences through this collection of essays. Not all of the essays are explicitly about her depression, but there are often glimmerings of a long history of mental illness throughout her life which she retells with what feels like a lot of emotional distance – perhaps out of a fear of getting too close to ...more
This is actually not a memoir, but rather an overall exploration of literature and criticism: “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write You In Your Life” is the first book of non-fiction by Chinese American writer and award winning novelist Yiyun Li. Throughout the book Li injected brief details from her life, writing career, showing the lingering effects and impact of her mental illness. Li resides in Oakland, California with her husband and sons.

Arriving in the U.S. from China, Li felt like a new an
Loneliness is the inability to speak with another in one's private language.

Dear Friend, what a way to title a book. Yiyun immediately lures her reader with this phrase, this title. We're all friends in the struggles we share, and personal essay writers knows how to make readers participants. Maybe it is because "a glimpse into the depth of other people's misfortunes makes us cling to the hope that suffering is measurable. There are more sorrowful sorrows, more despondent despondencies."
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not what I was expecting at all. I thought it'd be a gently discursive series of themed essays, a delightfully readable act of philanthropy/altruism, a stocking filler full of Buddhist koans etc. It is instead a very bleak and insightful memoir full of harrowing truths, quotable misery and hard-won wisdom. It's blackly funny, and very sad. And she visits William Trevor, always good. ...more
Jim Elkins
An Author Disconnected from the Present

I feel more than the usual unease about the uncharitable things I want to say about this book, because the book is a modestly recounted meditation about a period of suicidal depression. As Michael Hofmann says in the "London Review of Books," Yiyun Li's book is "intimate, but not personal; or personal, but not private"(June 2017), and it is as literary as Pessoa or Vila-Matas. There are any number of complimentary things that could be said about her attempt
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The same quality of Yiyun's fictional prose tiptoeing through my brain, then settling in for thoughts long after, lives in her nonfiction writing. This is a beautiful collection of essays exploring her bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. Part memoir, part lit crit, all wonderful writing. This book will definitely find itself among my stack of books to be revisited annually. ...more
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose Dear Friend... to read something different than I usually would. Having now finished it, I find it difficult to form a coherent opinion because it was a difficult read, in that I never felt like I understood the perspective of the author. It is a book of essays by a Chinese author who writes only in English, has twice attempted suicide, and exhibits a preference for reading the letters of other writers. This made it hard work to get through, but nevertheless still satisfying in its way.

Apr 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
This rating system doesn't allow me to say what I mean about "Dear Friend." There were sections that blew me away. I love the way Yi describes her relationships with books and authors. Some of these, like William Trevor, are alive and become actual friends, friends that Yi meets and corresponds with. Others, like Katherine Mansfield are friends she knows only through their writing. Mansfield's phrase is actually borrowed for the title of this book. Trevor's books allow and perhaps inspire Yi to ...more
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: r-ng
To understand Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li, you have to understand the context in which it came to be written. I struggle with how to rate this book. On the one hand, I have enormous respect for the author's struggle with mental health. On the other hand, the book reads as a therapeutic outlet for the author rather than a memoir to be shared with others. I bear witness to the struggle, wish her well, and move on.

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesf
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
“In an ideal world I would prefer to have my mind reserved for thinking, and thinking alone. I dread the moment when a thought trails off and a feeling starts. . .”

Yiyun Li’s Dear Friend, From My Life I write to You in Your Life—a collection of reflections and reminiscences written over a two year period of apparently deep despair and hospitalizations—shocks in its revelatory honesty and self-awareness. Her honesty is all the more shocking by her professed desire to erase the I in her writing:
Ann Girdharry
Jan 04, 2017 rated it liked it
This memoir is a string of thoughts, unanswerable questions, philosophical explorations and personal pain.

The author tells us of her own misunderstandings and attempts to understand life. It's written in an eloquent, flowing way- nothing jars and this makes it easy to read, even though the material is so dense.
There is no spiritual thread, rather, the author draws on the works of those authors she has most loved. Some of these authors she knew personally, or made deliberate contact with so that
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Read 2/3. This is nor your rainy afternoon cozy reading. This is the writing of someone who thinks that nothingness is the place to be.

The prose is difficult. Since she both hates disclosing herself and is compelled to do it, Li obscures and retracts in just about every paragraph.

It is also extremely painful. I will return to it because i admire this writer tremendously, but i need to be in a sunnier space. I think she may be the most erudite, deepest, most nihilistic writer today.
Donna Davis
It’s an honor to be invited to review any book by Random House and Net Galley, and so when the email came, I accepted without hesitation; I thank them for thinking of me and wish I could honestly recommend this one. Others have referred to this memoir, whose title is taken from a quote by Katharine Mansfield, as “exquisite, intimate, and lyrical”, and the author has won awards for her novels. I looked carefully to see if I could locate the genius in this book, but it eluded me completely.

The in
Aug 06, 2019 rated it liked it
It’s difficult to review and rate this book. On the one hand, it’s impeccably, beautifully written, and full of insight. On the other, I personally found it so quietly heavy and fatalistic that I couldn’t read more than a few pages every day. Much like the prose, the person we encounter in these essays is so lovely that it can make her attempts at self-effacement all the more overwhelming.

Yes, from the outset it’s a book that deals with suicide, depression, hospitalizations, and family trauma (
Eric Anderson
May 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What compels us to read so much? What relationship is formed between the author and reader in the process? How does our understanding of a book change over the course of our lives? I think there are moments in every committed reader's life when they find themselves reflecting upon these and similar questions – caught as we are in the strange alchemy of this intensely private and oftentimes lonely activity which connects us to the rest of humanity. Yiyun Li intelligently and movingly addresses th ...more
Ross McMeekin
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
A couple months ago I asked for a recommendation from a local bookseller I trust and he handed me Yiyun Li’s “Dear Friend…” I’ve since thanked him. The dense, aphorism-filled pages of Yiyun Li’s essay collection demand a slow read. It’s a rich book of meditations on writing, family, friendship, and mental illness. I’d call it quiet were its subject matter not so fraught with violence and clear-eyed (sometimes near ruthless) self-examination and examination of others. I found myself underlying fa ...more
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lucid . Exquisite . Intimate . Lyrical !
This book was in my wish list the moment I saw the name. It reminds me of the essence of Steven Wilson's HAND.CANNOT.ERASE
I have been waiting if I would get to read another book like 'A School for Fools' & this book stirs me up the same way. I think I can connect to writer, both of us particularly inclined to read autobiographies, memoirs, letters of real people -the neediness—to find one’s uncertain self in other lives ~

Michael Livingston
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really struggled with this - Li tries hard to keep a lot of herself out of these vaguely autobiographical essays (dealing partly with her depression) and in the end I felt so distanced that it was hard to engage.
Camelia Rose
This is an autobiographical (personal) essay collection. Whether you enjoy a particular personal essay is largely down to whether the writer’s personal experience and affections resonate with you. Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life was written during the two years period when the author attempted suicide twice and twice hospitalized. There are 8 essays in the collection. Each essay is a mixture of memory fragments, contemplation, personal reading experience--in her childhood a ...more
Kelsey Kim
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Sporadic, changing, fluid, this memoir reflects the thoughts of Yiyun Li over two years, during which she battles suicidal depression. While she does discuss her thoughts on suicide, as well as her opinions on personal matters such as feelings and attachments, she also reveals her intrinsic connection to the literary realm, both through authors and their characters, and her desire to write her own stories. Li’s memoir is the most eye-opening literary work I’ve read regarding suicidal depression ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books mentioned (3 times, I think) in the TLS at the end of the [last] year. I have mined this feature for reading suggestions for years and have never been disappointed.

This particular work is simply beautifully written as Ms. Li draws the reader into her own reading and literary associations, describing her emigration from China and her mother to the United States and her shift from studying science/medicine to writing. A student of, among others, James Alan McPherson, her
Jul 13, 2018 added it
Like poetry in that it is hard to comment on. It's enough for this book to exist, occupying a particular place, time, spot in my heart. I underlined everything whether or not I believe it. Most of it I believed. I have nothing intelligent to say about suicide or its ideology, but I know the big, wide, necessary chasms between people and the desperate or ambivalent efforts to bridge them. Through books. Or flying to Boston just to sit with someone you like and admire. I can see how talking yourse ...more
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Suspect this book is a marmite book. It has no real logical progression and can seem a bit bitty but the author writes with a real honesty that leaps off the page. It's almost like you're having a conversation with her. She speaks very eloquently about serious depression. It's more like a series of essays. The book is littered with literary references and also to the craft of writing. Having gone through her troubles she is now able to be detached and write - almost back to herself at a younger ...more
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Received Copy Through Goodreads Giveaway

I found this book to be deeply resonating. While their meandering style will not be for everyone, these essays clearly required immense personal courage, a lyrically honest writing style, and a brilliant mind. Yiyun Li addresses topics like depression, suicide, language, culture, and others with the complexity and doubt they deserve. Her intertwining of many other major literary figures makes her ideas more compelling and raw.
Nicole Dieker
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I felt like I understood myself more clearly after reading this book, which is interesting since much of the book is about the author understanding herself through reading other writers' books (especially their journals and letters, which this book is designed to resemble). But seriously: this is an extraordinary look at why we read, why we write, why we form and maintain relationships, why we crave privacy, and—above all—why we live. ...more
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I absolutely adore this book. The first, titular essay, which I read in 2014 first and have re-read many times, is unthinkably good, and the afterword, too, strikes me as quite marvelous. Sandwiched between these two is a set of essays that, as Li writes, do not aim for consistency, but are gestural in character, pointing at and refracting questions and problems of guilt, selfishness, exposure, and the inner life.
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
"Practitioners of that vanishing act develop the belief—illusion, really—that one can exist unobserved."

reading this was so chilling because it's the first time i've read something that so eerily comes close to how i think i feel.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
IQ "One has to have a solid self to be selfish." (18)

A highly meditative memoir about identity, sense of self, a love of literature and its ability to save lives. It is also a stunningly intimate portrait of someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts as well as Li's experience growing up in China with a difficult mother and passive father. A lot of writers and their books mentioned within these pages were new to me, excluding Austen, Chekov, Greene and Nabokov. And of those I've on
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Yiyun Li is the author of seven books, including Where Reasons End, which received the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award; the essay collection Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life; and the novels The Vagrants and Must I Go. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, and Windham-Campbell Prize, among other honors. A contributing editor to A Public Space, she tea ...more

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