So Many Olympic Exertions

"Did I even learn anything from all those years in training? I learned that I could not be the best." 

"...Mom always thought of swimming in this imperial, conquering way, as though it would eventually take me somewhere. But I never swam my way anywhere, never arrived any place worth getting to."

excerpted at VICE Magazine

"Efficiency is a battle waged against time. The runner’s only enemy is time, and his only tactic against time is perpetual onward movement."

  excerpted at BOMB Magazine

Praise for So Many Olympic Exertions

"Anelise Chen is the rare kind of writer who can bring rigorous thought into fiction without compromising the humanity of her characters, who can delve into the emotional landscape of alienation and make you feel closer to the story that’s being told, who can describe a man running and make it mean more than you would ever have imagined. With its passionate and penetrating empathy, So Many Olympic Exertions is a book that will pierce you with feeling and leave you eager to read what she creates next."

Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and Something New Under the Sun

"Reading Anelise Chen’s debut is like being placed in a fast-moving stream it’s impossible to stop and you won’t want to. A rare joy."

Ed Park, author of Personal Days

"Chen writes with sharp knowledge about compulsive endurance, a surprisingly familiar pathology that she slyly argues may be synonymous with our end-of-empire lifestyles. Equal parts panic attack poetry, unnerving research, and sculpted hesitation marks, So Many Olympic Exertions is a cool literature made from the hot stage fright of the children of immigrants on some live TV whizkid contest perhaps called Life Now."

Eugene Lim, author of Dear Cyborgs and The Strangers


"Chen’s novel, joining a chorus of other recent ambitious art and literature, reveals contemporary life as a strange kind of game, one that makes real artificial worlds, from sports to academia to Facebook, grow drastically in importance even as their purpose dissolves. But the goal is more than simply to give us a picture of our world as it is. By working philosophy and sports, autobiography and fiction, history and reflection into a cohesive narrative form, writing like this tries to imagine something else, a space in that world for something like true diversion."

James Duesterberg, Brooklyn Rail

More Reviews

"Is thinking about life simply a way to procrastinate from living? Or is a philosophy of life necessary for self-actualization? Should we set challenging goals to motivate ourselves, or confidently take it easy? So Many Olympic Exertions doesn’t provide any concrete answers — I’m not sure any novel can — but provides much to ponder while swimming towards whatever we believe our goals to be."  — Siel Ju, LARB

"Chen does beautiful, thoughtful returns in this book, looping around the connections between sports and life, sports and death, and the limits of those through lines." — Yasmin Majeed, Ploughshares

"Formally unique and inventive, this novel fluctuates in tone, reading at some times like an authentic and unfiltered private journal and at others like a deeply researched academic essay. Often it flows organically into meditative territory, while combining images in a manner reminiscent of the work of authors such as W.G. Sebald or Ben Lerner. This ambitious book is sure to appeal to fans of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?—it similarly challenges the expectations regarding the rules a novel ought to follow." Publishers Weekly

"Chen is a thoughtful and inventive writer, and the world she creates may remind readers of certain paintings by Gustav Klimt, wherein the characters are rendered in a doleful realist hand as their surroundings shimmer with gold leaf." — Max Ross, Electric Lit


"Chen's style is easygoing yet analytical, hilarious yet existential, poignant, and always surprising. A semiautobiographical work, the novel channels such influences as David Markson and Lydia Davis, fusing obscure sports trivia, self-help manuals, the journals of Kafka and Virginia Woolf, philosophy, mythology, and athlete profiles (along with conversations with one's immigrant parents) to explore the hazier interstices where the self exists within our culture's dichotomies of mind and body, nerd and jock, ecstasy and defeat." 

— James Yeh, VICE Magazine


"Sometimes a book finds you at just the right time, and it changes your life a little bit. This is that book for me. I used to be a very intense athlete--I worked under an Olympic world record holder--I trained, I competed, and I won, and eventually I stopped doing all three, in some non-numerical order. Now I stress about grad school. Reading this book was a salve for the me that wonders what could have been, and the me that now wonders what could be." — Delaney, Book Culture Recommends


"A young woman learns of the suicide of her brilliant friend from college, forcing her to examine how we measure success." Librarie Drawn & Quarterly

Press, interviews, and mentions: "Anelise Chen Thinks You Should Quit," an interview with Max Ross at Electric Lit; "Autofiction and the Asian Diaspora," a Q & A with Grafias Journal at the Los Angeles Review of Books; Q & A with Book Culture; "When the professor's plans go by the wayside, the education begins," by Zahir Janmohamed for The Boston Globe; "9 Books About Women Who Can't Get Out of Their Heads," Electric Lit; "Deforming Medium: A Reading List of Experimental Points of View," Literary Hub.