cover image The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

Sven Birkerts, . . Graywolf, $12 (194pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-489-3

Respected critic Birkerts has written an insightful appreciation of the memoir form, works that occupy a “growing... place in our literary culture.” Analyzing five ways different writers have chosen to transform their memories into coherent narrative, Birkerts discerns the underlying principle of the memoir form: balancing two perspectives by revisiting significant events in the past to discover a pattern in one's present life. Nabokov, Virginia Woolf and Annie Dillard are what he calls the “Lyrical Seekers,” who use “sensuous apprehension” to explore the nature of being. Frank Conroy's Stop-Time is one of the examples of the coming-of-age memoir, as is Birkerts's own My Sky Blue Trades . Fathers and sons, e.g., Paul Auster, Geoffrey Wolff and Blake Morrison, are distinguished from mothers and daughters, e.g., Jamaica Kincaid and Vivian Gornick. Finally, works by Mary Karr and Lucy Grealy are among those illustrating the category of trauma and memory. The appeal of this slim volume lies in Birkert's graceful prose and lucid analysis. Written for the general reader, it artfully conveys the basics of the craft and will be a particular boon to reading groups. (Jan.)