Content Tagged ‘Sven Birkerts’

What has gone missing?

May 25, 2016 | 14 Comments

The wiser narrator

February 4, 2015 | 11 Comments

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read Name All the Animals, by Alison Smith, one of my favorite memoirs. I reviewed it four years ago, and this semester I’m teaching it to a class of honors freshmen students under a coming-of-age memoirs theme. At the time of my review, one of the story’s most striking aspects to me was its scenic quality. I wrote, “There isn’t much authorial distance: narrated by a bereft girl, with scant mature perspective, the story has a poignant immediacy.”

How I disagree now with my (slightly) younger self! Though Smith is a scenic and subtle writer whose story breathes on the page, and is deeply embedded in her teenage life, there’s no pretense that a high school girl wrote this. Smith’s voice palpably changes at times (as when she fills us in on her parents’ early lives), and there are even more overt cues, including the standby “writer-at-her-desk now” move, “I remember.”

Why did I not see this? I suppose I got lost in the story, plus at the time I was trying to enhance the scenic quality of my own Shepherd: A Memoir. One’s response to a book is, to a large degree, a selfie. You, now. Which is why and how I learned not to teach certain great memoirs to undergraduates. They have to find a book’s characters relatable. Maybe one of the few advantages of age is that we can relate to a wider swath of humanity.

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The truthiness obsession at AWP

March 10, 2013 | 23 Comments

High interest in creative nonfiction swamps small rooms. Guest Post by Janice Gary The AWP is always such an exhausting, exhilarating and mind-blowing experience. Home now and coming down from the high, I’m overwhelmed with writing ideas and new ways of thinking about writing and appreciation for my writing colleagues—both those I reconnected with and those I met along the way. We are all each other’s teachers, and nowhere is that more evident for me than at the AWP Conference. …

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Emily Rapp’s satisfying memoir

November 18, 2012 | 14 Comments

Her tale of physical disability depicts an inner transformation. Poster Child: A Memoir by Emily Rapp. Bloomsbury, 226 pp. This semester my freshman honors students and I have read six memoirs and Sven Birkerts’s The Art of Time in Memoir (reviewed) in my themed composition class, “Tales of Dangerous Youth.” As with novels, coming of age stories are common in memoir. It has pleased me to see students who hadn’t read a memoir, or who had read one bad one, …

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‘The Art of Time in Memoir’

July 26, 2010 | 8 Comments

Sven Birkerts views “double vantage point” as genre’s signature. Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.—Gabriel Garcia Marquez The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again by Sven Birkerts. Graywolf. 194 pages What’s the difference between a novel and a memoir? The question isn’t as dumb as it may appear. A novel can be autobiographical, drawn completely from life remembered; a memoir is of course made of memory …

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A little more Dillard

July 13, 2010 | 7 Comments

Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles. The problem is structural; it is insoluble; it is why no one can ever write this book. Complex stories, essays and poems have this problem, too—the prohibitive structural defect the writer wishes he had never noticed. That’s from Annie Dillard’s 1989 New York Times essay “Write Till You Drop,” quarried from her book The Writing Life. Yet she promises: At its best, the …

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Honesty in memoir, ver. 3.2

April 17, 2010 | 6 Comments

John D’Agata’s new book About a Mountain portrays Congress deciding to make Yucca mountain a nuclear dump, and, as if in response, a sixteen-year-old boy makes a suicide leap off the balcony of a skeevy Las Vegas hotel. In an otherwise rave review last February in The New York Times Book Review, Charles Bock took D’Agata to task for changing the date of the boy’s death to better serve his narrative (D’Agata gave the correct date in a footnote). D’Agata …

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