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The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

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The Art Of series is a new line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism. Each book will be a brief, witty, and useful exploration of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry by a writer impassioned by a singular craft issue. The Art Of volumes will provide a series of sustained examinations of key but sometimes neglected aspects of creative writing by some of con The Art Of series is a new line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism. Each book will be a brief, witty, and useful exploration of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry by a writer impassioned by a singular craft issue. The Art Of volumes will provide a series of sustained examinations of key but sometimes neglected aspects of creative writing by some of contemporary literature's finest practioners. In The Art of Time in Memoir, critic and memoirist Sven Birkerts examines the human impulse to write about the self. By examining memoirs such as Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory; Virginia Woolf's unfinished A Sketch of the Past; and Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, Birkerts describes the memoirist's essential art of assembling patterns of meaning, stirring to life our own sense of past and present.


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The Art Of series is a new line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism. Each book will be a brief, witty, and useful exploration of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry by a writer impassioned by a singular craft issue. The Art Of volumes will provide a series of sustained examinations of key but sometimes neglected aspects of creative writing by some of con The Art Of series is a new line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism. Each book will be a brief, witty, and useful exploration of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry by a writer impassioned by a singular craft issue. The Art Of volumes will provide a series of sustained examinations of key but sometimes neglected aspects of creative writing by some of contemporary literature's finest practioners. In The Art of Time in Memoir, critic and memoirist Sven Birkerts examines the human impulse to write about the self. By examining memoirs such as Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory; Virginia Woolf's unfinished A Sketch of the Past; and Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, Birkerts describes the memoirist's essential art of assembling patterns of meaning, stirring to life our own sense of past and present.

30 review for The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nick Grammos

    I read this a couple of months ago, so I'm working from memory, what I will say is probably tainted by time and other narrative processes. It's probably best that I never read another book-about-books. They are unsatisfying, not in the way an unsatisfying books of fiction or memoirs can be - for their own reasons that are far more interesting than a book-about-books can ever be. A title like 'The Art of" suggests a kind of hand book, a guide book, that sort of thing. The problem with such a book I read this a couple of months ago, so I'm working from memory, what I will say is probably tainted by time and other narrative processes. It's probably best that I never read another book-about-books. They are unsatisfying, not in the way an unsatisfying books of fiction or memoirs can be - for their own reasons that are far more interesting than a book-about-books can ever be. A title like 'The Art of" suggests a kind of hand book, a guide book, that sort of thing. The problem with such a book is the same each time. It's always better to take guidance directly. And it's always better to read the books-it's-about. Speak Memory gets a regular mention. A terrific book, because of how good Nabokov can write. And that is all you really need to know. But you have to read it. I suppose then books-about-books serve their purpose. Someone had to write about a book to introduce the author. Which is what we all do here. Though some people are mad as hell reviewers, others vengeful, enough are illuminating if you move with the right crowd. Thankfully I've found a few. Birkits doesn't mention Bunuel's memoir; a book I found fascinating, partly because Bunuel questions the merits of truth and memory. Birkits mentions self-discovery a fair bit, which is the least interesting motive for reading a memoir. I prefer just a good read, whether true or not. I discovered few self-discoveries in Bunuel, which suited me well. I kind of read this because I notice there are so many memoirs out there. Can there be that much of interest in so many lives that we need to read about them? So many memoirs feel like little celebrity victories. I always prefer fiction, at least it doesn't pretend. I wonder if any of us has enough time to work out the narrative threads of our own lives. Perhaps it's best not to be confused by the lives of others. But then, I know we model ourselves on others and even jealously emulate the lives of others - hey that would be a great memoir sub-genre - a self-expose on one's own life models. Start with Speak Memory, then Virginia Wolf, then Tobias Wolf, then Bunuel. And if you don't finish your memoir, then you've read a few good memoirs of intelligent artists. That should be enough. It's not all bad, some might find it useful.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    I just finished reading the NY Times Problem with Memoirs and think that Genzlinger weighted his review with the three worst examples of memoir he could find, while Birkerts made me want to run out and grab a whole stack of other memoirs. So I would respond to Genzlinger, that I know and am persuaded by Birkerts that no life is interesting in and of itself, but in the hands of her that writes well it is interesting. Or something. That formulation doesn't quite work. I did like Genzlinger's rule I just finished reading the NY Times Problem with Memoirs and think that Genzlinger weighted his review with the three worst examples of memoir he could find, while Birkerts made me want to run out and grab a whole stack of other memoirs. So I would respond to Genzlinger, that I know and am persuaded by Birkerts that no life is interesting in and of itself, but in the hands of her that writes well it is interesting. Or something. That formulation doesn't quite work. I did like Genzlinger's rule of thumb about "If you didn't feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don't publish it." I suspect that that much Birkerts would agree with, since he writes For example, I may reflect in therapy on an unhappy period of my adolescence, testing memories and looking for insights that will help me understand why I did what I did then. To convert this into memoiristic material, however, I need to give the reader both the unprocessed feeling of the world as I saw it then and a reflective vantage point that incorporates or suggests that these events made a different kind of sense over time. This is the transformation that, if done well, absolves a memoiristic reflection from the charge of self-involved navel-gazing. What makes the difference is not only the fact of reflective self-awareness, but the conversion of private and public by way of a narrative compelling the interest and engagement of the reader. The act of storytelling -- even if the story is an account of psychological self-realization -- is by its very nature an attempt at universalizing the specific; it assumes there is a shared ground between the teller and the audience. Storytelling fails when the narrative cannot coax sympathetic resonance from the listener. What I'll take away from this book, besides the reading list, of course, is an awareness in reading memoir (and yes, probably in writing the occasional memoir-flavored blog entry) of the interplay of time perspectives, the interaction of present self and past self. That my natural gravitation toward the "lyrical memoirists" that Birkerts lists -- Nabokov, Dillard, Woolf -- has something to do with the fascination with memory and sense of self and not merely my own memories or my own self -- I have a squirmy relationship with that sort of attention, in fact, but that in any kind of writing done well specific instantiations point towards universal truths in a more vivid (truthful?) way than trying to speak in generic or abstract universals could. And I try to keep in therapy the things that belong in therapy, but it was a bit of a relief to discover that to use the present as a safe platform from which to dive into the past doesn't in fact require that the present self has everything all neatly stitched up and resolved but that it can offer a part of the truth to the past self just as the past self holds clues to understanding the present self, and the quest after truth and wholeness wants a veritable congress of past and present selves. Says Birkerts "The point -- the glory -- of memoir is that it anchors its authority in the actual life; it is a modeling of the process of creative self-inquiry as it is applied to the stuff of lived experience. This really happened is the baseline contention of the memoir, and the fascination of the work -- apart from the interest we have in what is told -- is in tracking the artistic transformation of the actual via the alchemy of psychologica insight, pattern recognition and lyrical evocation into a contained saga." This is the perfect rebuttal, I think to my husband's assertion "Isn't memoir just the reality tv of literature?" Memoir returns to the past, investigating causes in the light of their known effects, conjuring the unresolved mysteries of fate verus chance, free will versus determinism. To read the life of another person put before us in this way is inevitably to repossess something of ourselves. The writer's then and now stir to life our own sense of past and present. So long as we believe ourselves to be living in the direction of meaning, memoir will never not be coming into its own, fresh and startling. yes.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kristina Amelong

    Want to understand how to work with all of time in your writing? Read this! I am continuously reading this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ann Douglas

    Another excellent volume in this series. Sven Birkerts describes memoir as a way of using "the vantage point of the present to gain access to what might be called the hidden narrative of the past." As he explains, "The search for patterns and connections is the real point -- and glory -- of memoir." Another excellent volume in this series. Sven Birkerts describes memoir as a way of using "the vantage point of the present to gain access to what might be called the hidden narrative of the past." As he explains, "The search for patterns and connections is the real point -- and glory -- of memoir."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    Although Birkerts focusses exclusively on memoir writing, the crux of his book is the distance between the narrator and the subject...and that distance is as applicable to an older self recalling a younger self in memoir as it is to an older narrator animating his younger self in fiction. Birkerts introduces his book by exploring a few classic masters of the art: Nabokov (Speak, Memory) and Virginia Woolf's "A Sketch of the Past," he devotes most of his exploration to works by authors who publis Although Birkerts focusses exclusively on memoir writing, the crux of his book is the distance between the narrator and the subject...and that distance is as applicable to an older self recalling a younger self in memoir as it is to an older narrator animating his younger self in fiction. Birkerts introduces his book by exploring a few classic masters of the art: Nabokov (Speak, Memory) and Virginia Woolf's "A Sketch of the Past," he devotes most of his exploration to works by authors who published in the latter half of the twentieth century all the while teasing out the question, Why is memoir such a dominent form in our contemporary era. Along the way he articulates, time and again, the purpose of that all important distance between narrator and subject, and his rearticulation goes a long way toward making clear a concept so crucial and so ephemerally glimpsed (at least for me: I think this stuff is like that which one perceives peripherally and loses when full gaze is turned upon). Herewith some eloquent observations by Birkerts, who has thought long and hard and successfully about this gorgeous, elusive subject: The memoirist needs "to give the reader both the unprocessed feeling of the world as [he] saw it then and a reflective vantage point that incorporates or suggests that these events made a different kind of sense over time. This is the transformation that, if well done, absolves a memoiristic reflection from the charge of self-involved navel-gazing. What makes the difference is not only the fact of reflective self-awareness, but the conversion of private into public by way of a narrative compelling the interest and engagement of the reader." "The act of storytelling--even if the story is an account of psychological self-realization--is by its very nature an attempt at universalizing the specific; it assumes there is a shared ground between the teller and the audience. Storytelling fails when the narrative cannot coax sympathetic resonance from the listener." Quoting V. Woolf: "One of the reasons why so many meoirs are failures: They leave out the person to whom things have happened." "They say, 'This is what happened', but they do not say what the person was like to whom it happened." "The memoirist's 'I' must be an inhabited character." (Birkerts on Anne Dillard): "The collision of original perception and highsight realization: the revision fo the then by the now." (Birkerts on Ondaatje): "The scope is variable and determined b the object of the author's private search. The point of the work...is to discover through memory the linkages that give resonance to what would otherwise be the chaos of life." (Birkerts on Gornick): "It's hardly a surprise that the memoirist looking deep into the past should find herself constantly moving between experience tasted and experience digested." (!!!)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Honaker

    Probably the most important nugget I took away was one I have read about in Vivian Gornick’s and Mary Karr’s craft books. “So much of the substance of memoir is not exactly what happened but rather, what is the expressive truth of the past, the truth of feeling that answers to the effect of events and relationships on a life.” Sometimes I struggle with the fact that I don’t remember every detail about an event I am writing, but I remember the feelings, the moments. This is what is important thou Probably the most important nugget I took away was one I have read about in Vivian Gornick’s and Mary Karr’s craft books. “So much of the substance of memoir is not exactly what happened but rather, what is the expressive truth of the past, the truth of feeling that answers to the effect of events and relationships on a life.” Sometimes I struggle with the fact that I don’t remember every detail about an event I am writing, but I remember the feelings, the moments. This is what is important though, and I need to remember that. It is not about recounting an exact event like nonfiction. It is about recounting a feeling, an emotion, something that touches readers and reminds them of the universal human experience. That is what makes memoir creative nonfiction. Read my full review at: https://strawbabiesandchocolatebeer.c...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Laureano

    The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again is beautifully written, full of quotable gems capturing key elements of great writing in several deeply-analyzed memoirs. Birkerts deftly pulls out the common features of compellingly-told life stories in a way that is at once an appreciation of great literature as well as an extremely useful how-to. There are dos and don'ts that are concrete; then there are guiding principles that are a little more ephemeral, and finally there is the alchemy of rules, prin The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again is beautifully written, full of quotable gems capturing key elements of great writing in several deeply-analyzed memoirs. Birkerts deftly pulls out the common features of compellingly-told life stories in a way that is at once an appreciation of great literature as well as an extremely useful how-to. There are dos and don'ts that are concrete; then there are guiding principles that are a little more ephemeral, and finally there is the alchemy of rules, principles, and art that produce a great narrative finely told. A reassuring companion for any aspiring memoirist, and a manual for closer reading for those interested in reading, rather than writing, memoirs.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I have been reading memoirs and books about memoir. There are some helpful perspectives in the first section of this book. Then it goes into discussing examples of different types of memoirs. I find this less interesting since I often haven't read the specific memoirs being discussed. Many of the memoirs cited, were familiar from other books on this topic. I have been reading memoirs and books about memoir. There are some helpful perspectives in the first section of this book. Then it goes into discussing examples of different types of memoirs. I find this less interesting since I often haven't read the specific memoirs being discussed. Many of the memoirs cited, were familiar from other books on this topic.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amorak Huey

    Lots of smart thinking in this book, helpful advice and musing on memoir. Some quotes and notes that I gave to my creative nonfiction students: Again and again, people say to me, “If I could just tell it,” and I know exactly what they mean. But how hard it is to disabuse them of the idea that if they just started at the beginning and worked their way forward, all would be revealed. Wrong, wrong, wrong. There is in fact no faster way to smother the core meaning of a life, its elusive threads and c Lots of smart thinking in this book, helpful advice and musing on memoir. Some quotes and notes that I gave to my creative nonfiction students: Again and again, people say to me, “If I could just tell it,” and I know exactly what they mean. But how hard it is to disabuse them of the idea that if they just started at the beginning and worked their way forward, all would be revealed. Wrong, wrong, wrong. There is in fact no faster way to smother the core meaning of a life, its elusive threads and connections, than with the heavy blanket of narrated event. Even the juiciest scandals and revelations topple before the drone of, “And then … and then …” Memoir begins not with even but with the intuition of meaning – with the mysterious fact that life can sometimes step free from the chaos of contingency and become story. [In successful memoirs, the purpose] is to discover the nonsequential connections that allow experiences to make larger sense; they are about are about a circumstance becoming meaningful when seem from a certain remove. They all, to a greater or lesser degree, use the vantage point of the present to gain access to what might called the hidden narrative of the past. Of Virginia Woolf, Birkerts writes: If she hasn’t discovered an artistic shape that will completely express the tension between present and past, she is nonetheless subjecting the mystery to a constant pressure of inquiry. [Yes: we should put this constant pressure on our words, our sentences.] [Memoirs] present not the line of the life, but the life remembered … serving theme rather than event. [He’s making a distinction here between memoir and autobiography; the distinction to me seems useful to our work in the essay as well. It’s not just what happened, or even what it meant when it happened, but what it means now that matters.] The memoirist is generally not after the sequenced account of life so much as the story or stories that have given that life its internal shape. … And because we come to our insights more by way of thematic association than chronology, using hindsight to pick the lock of the then, the structure of the work seldom follows the A-B-C of logical sequence. [The focus on structure is important. It’s an easy thing to forget about – easier to get lost in recounting what happened than in organizing it. This has something to do with making personal sense of the events you relate, but also much to do with preparing them for an audience. I think about preparing a meal: whatever happened might be your raw ingredients, so you have to get that down to get started, but you still have much work to do in terms of combining, cooking, arranging, presenting before you can serve the meal to someone else.] About works arranged in nonlinear chunks: The risk with [this style] is that while it looks deceptively simple – much as an abstract expressionist painting might be to a first-time viewer – it requires careful intuitive calibration of effects. Some juxtapositions work, others don’t. … the writer needs to be able to step away from her material enough to measure the possible effects, to judge the structural options.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Visha

    Loved this nifty, square tome, dedicated to the philosophy of memory & memoir writing. Be aware: it's most helpful to have read at least several of the memoirs referred to throughout the chapters, which are conveniently organized into 'broad-idea'/'condensed space' chapters: the Lyrical Seekers (a bit dense for the beginning, but it picks up from there); 'Coming of Age' (my recommendation of where to start reading); 'Fathers & Sons', 'Mothers and Daughters'. Possibly due to the space constraints Loved this nifty, square tome, dedicated to the philosophy of memory & memoir writing. Be aware: it's most helpful to have read at least several of the memoirs referred to throughout the chapters, which are conveniently organized into 'broad-idea'/'condensed space' chapters: the Lyrical Seekers (a bit dense for the beginning, but it picks up from there); 'Coming of Age' (my recommendation of where to start reading); 'Fathers & Sons', 'Mothers and Daughters'. Possibly due to the space constraints, Birkerts doesn't dilly-dally when giving instruction. This is one I'll be keeping, referring to when I need some guidelines, and marking up with my highlighter and pencil. There's a handy "Works Cited" page at the end, listing some great memoirs to read, and which are referred to by Birkerts. Another great guide from Graywolf Press. If you haven't checked out this press yet, do yourself a favor: www.graywolfpress.org. They cover fiction, non-fiction, and poetry (lots and lots of Albert Goldbarth). I've always been pleased with anything I've picked up from them, but I will recommend John D'Agata's Halls of Fame and The Next American Essay, Per Patterson's Out Stealing Horses; Ander Monson's Neck Deep.

  11. 4 out of 5

    loafingcactus

    I had thought this book would be prescriptive about the particulars of craft of using time in a memoir. For this I blame a misleading title. The book is more descriptive about the fact that memoir is defined by being about something in another time and thus being about moving from the experience of not having perspective to the writer's reality of having perspective. The provides categories of memoirs and describes how this affects their usual structure. And it does the above very well. However, I had thought this book would be prescriptive about the particulars of craft of using time in a memoir. For this I blame a misleading title. The book is more descriptive about the fact that memoir is defined by being about something in another time and thus being about moving from the experience of not having perspective to the writer's reality of having perspective. The provides categories of memoirs and describes how this affects their usual structure. And it does the above very well. However, a reader might be inclined to be disturbed by the gender normatives of his grouping, particularly since he writes at length about a book (The Kiss) which explodes his gender norming without in any way addressing the problem including the book raises.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Juan Valdivia

    Excellent book. If I could give it 4.5 stars, I would. If you ever want to pick up a book that critically and thoughtfully analyzes the memoir, I can't think of a better book than this one. Birkerts provides a number of incisive breakdowns of books within the classic memoir genres (such as "Coming of Age," "Mothers and Daughters," and "Trauma and Memory") to show how some strong writers went about writing their books, how they dealt with the issue of writing about memory, and the passage of time Excellent book. If I could give it 4.5 stars, I would. If you ever want to pick up a book that critically and thoughtfully analyzes the memoir, I can't think of a better book than this one. Birkerts provides a number of incisive breakdowns of books within the classic memoir genres (such as "Coming of Age," "Mothers and Daughters," and "Trauma and Memory") to show how some strong writers went about writing their books, how they dealt with the issue of writing about memory, and the passage of time. It's an excellent, thorough meditation on the memoir genre, what differentiates it from fiction writing. Lots of noteworthy gems throughout. To boot, the books cited at the end looks like an exemplary list of memoirs to read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Hinchliff

    4169634 Just finished reading this. I must say I was rather disappointed. I thought I would glean more useful information, as I am now in the throes of designing an approach to my own memoir. and thought maybe this would delineate a few issues for me...things to consider, to look out for. I did not like the style of writing in this book and the language used. It seems pretentious, affected and excessive in the choice of words. It could have been easier to read and digest if the language and the i 4169634 Just finished reading this. I must say I was rather disappointed. I thought I would glean more useful information, as I am now in the throes of designing an approach to my own memoir. and thought maybe this would delineate a few issues for me...things to consider, to look out for. I did not like the style of writing in this book and the language used. It seems pretentious, affected and excessive in the choice of words. It could have been easier to read and digest if the language and the ideas had been kept simpler and more straightforward. However; there was some good information. But I had to keep going back and re-reading various passages. I think parts of it will be helpful, though, in deciding how to structure my memoir and what to put on it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Suspended somewhere between a short book and an extended essay, this is a brief look at a number of reoccuring narrative and stylistic techniques in the ever-popular genre of memoir, fleshed out with examples culled from Birkert's obviously expansive personal readings. It often gets bogged down in mere synopses, but the first two chapters--the prologue where Birkerts describes his own struggle to write a memoir and the chapter on "lyrical seekers" (specifically Nabokov, Woolf and Dillard)--are d Suspended somewhere between a short book and an extended essay, this is a brief look at a number of reoccuring narrative and stylistic techniques in the ever-popular genre of memoir, fleshed out with examples culled from Birkert's obviously expansive personal readings. It often gets bogged down in mere synopses, but the first two chapters--the prologue where Birkerts describes his own struggle to write a memoir and the chapter on "lyrical seekers" (specifically Nabokov, Woolf and Dillard)--are densely packed and quite illuminating. Uneven, but not without merit. "Every memoirist is, with Proust, in search of lost time."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michele Cacano

    I really enjoyed reading this. It is essentially a critique of modern memoir, with many examples (and a reading list to further explore) of writing techniques; whay works and why, whay is less effective, how to choose and enact the desired effect for readers (assuming you are a memoir writer). I feel I have learned not only intellectually, but viscerally, through this book. I will most likely revisit it often.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    Yes, yes, yes! While I left feeling a bit frustrated that it didn't "solve" any temporal problems I am having in my own writing, I was reminded that any so-called craft book that promises to yield easy answers or duct-tape-like narrative sutures is worth its weight in crap. We have to stake out our own territory. Do our own work. But Birkert's book gives us much to consider as we do so. Yes, yes, yes! While I left feeling a bit frustrated that it didn't "solve" any temporal problems I am having in my own writing, I was reminded that any so-called craft book that promises to yield easy answers or duct-tape-like narrative sutures is worth its weight in crap. We have to stake out our own territory. Do our own work. But Birkert's book gives us much to consider as we do so.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Casie Blevins

    I felt like I read five books in one. Wonderfully done synopses of five influential memoirs. Thoughtful and moving connections between novels. I enjoyed this The Art of title.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andy Oram

    The insights from this book helped me appreciate other people's memoirs and write my own. I was alternating between Birkerts and my own work much of the time: reading a few pages of his book, getting an inspiration, and rushing off to edit my draft. The book is therefore valuable, but it's not quite what I expected. It's about two-thirds literary analysis and one-third advice, a big contrast with another useful book I read recently (Writing the Memoir, by Judith Barrington). To read Birkerts, you The insights from this book helped me appreciate other people's memoirs and write my own. I was alternating between Birkerts and my own work much of the time: reading a few pages of his book, getting an inspiration, and rushing off to edit my draft. The book is therefore valuable, but it's not quite what I expected. It's about two-thirds literary analysis and one-third advice, a big contrast with another useful book I read recently (Writing the Memoir, by Judith Barrington). To read Birkerts, you have to deal agilely with phrases such as "manipulation of the reflective voice" and "intensify our sense of subjective dimension." If you can navigate such passages, you will be rewarded with insights about retrieving memory, handling sequence, and turning your personal experience into a text other people will enjoy and learn from. Birkerts discusses outstanding examples of popular genres, such as coming-of-age and trauma stories, but emphasizes that every author finds a unique way to lay out the revelations offered by his or her life.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Billie Pritchett

    A wonderful book on the art of memoir, The Art of Time in Memoir makes the case that the hallmark of the memoir is the adept use of the retrospective, the shifting between what happened then, that is, at the time of the events of the narrative, and how those events are to be interpreted now. Sven Birkerts demonstrates how the retrospective works with respect to the way memoirists might structure their work. One way to tell the story is to look back on life at that lost innocence which we only se A wonderful book on the art of memoir, The Art of Time in Memoir makes the case that the hallmark of the memoir is the adept use of the retrospective, the shifting between what happened then, that is, at the time of the events of the narrative, and how those events are to be interpreted now. Sven Birkerts demonstrates how the retrospective works with respect to the way memoirists might structure their work. One way to tell the story is to look back on life at that lost innocence which we only seem to have access to in childhood as Nabokov's Speak, Memory does, or Annie Dillard's An American Childhood. Memoirs can also be written about coming of age, as tales of fathers and sons, tales of mothers and daughters, tales of trauma and how trauma shapes memory. Birkerts analyzes each of these different memoir forms and holds up certain works as exemplars of these forms. This book is very much worth reading, especially if you want an inroad on some great memoirs to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Alvarez

    Paired with specific attention to the narrative voice of a work, as outlined by Wayne C. Booth, or as it is intensively studied at the Writers Studio, Birkerts' take on the distance between the writer and the narrator as it functions in memoir is exceptionally well written. By surveying a few of the large thematic tracks in memoir he is able to bring home more than a few useful and poignant truths about writing and how memory functions in the context of memoir (and, separately, autobiography). I Paired with specific attention to the narrative voice of a work, as outlined by Wayne C. Booth, or as it is intensively studied at the Writers Studio, Birkerts' take on the distance between the writer and the narrator as it functions in memoir is exceptionally well written. By surveying a few of the large thematic tracks in memoir he is able to bring home more than a few useful and poignant truths about writing and how memory functions in the context of memoir (and, separately, autobiography). I'm not interested in writing a memoir at the moment but the lessons given here can be applied to any type of writing, and certainly any time of living, where memory is concerned.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Zuska

    Interesting overview of multiple classic memoirs, grouped according to several broad themes. One does learn something about the use of time/timelines in structuring memoir, and it can be a fast read (I just got interrupted with several other books).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carole Duff

    How to handle the “double vantage point”—the then of the past (the former self) and now (the present self, trying to find meaning of the former self’s experience). Excellent examples of how master memoirists have accomplished this feat.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Potassium

    Bleh. The worst. This guy thinks he is the best and all of his chosen examples are also the best. If he blabs about Proust one more time.... I refuse to believe that there is so little diversity in memoir writers and the stories they choose to tell. This book made me want to break all his “rules.”

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Kelly

    An instructive little book, although I think it is misnamed. It should be something more like "Vantage Point in Memoir." I liked Birkert's discussion of truth telling in memoir. He concludes that "memoir serves the spirit of the past, not the letter." An instructive little book, although I think it is misnamed. It should be something more like "Vantage Point in Memoir." I liked Birkert's discussion of truth telling in memoir. He concludes that "memoir serves the spirit of the past, not the letter."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Liz Harmer

    quite useful.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Braided essays are 💯 and this is a good book for Time Jumps 101

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chauna Craig

    A very useful craft book on thinking through timeframes when writing a memoir. Good examples.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Antoine

    The best of The Art of series I've read so far, this book is an invaluable tool for writers of memoir and fiction. A wonderful and consistently insightful little book. The best of The Art of series I've read so far, this book is an invaluable tool for writers of memoir and fiction. A wonderful and consistently insightful little book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Martha McSweeney

    This gave good examples of how time was handled in a number of memoirs, many which I had already read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suzann

    Rec by CA. Argument for processed memoir. He demonstrates a variety a literary examples and their varied use of then and now reflections.

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