In The Art of Time in Memoir, critic, editor, and memoirist Sven Birkerts examines the human impulse to write about the self. "Memoir is, for better and often for worse, the genre of our times," Birkerts writes. But what makes one memoir memorable and another self-serving? What determines the difference between graceful disclosure and sensational self-exposure? Birkerts argues that the memoirist's strategies for presenting the subjective experience of time reveal the power and resonance of the writer's life. By examining memoirs such as Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Virginia Woolf's unfinished A Sketch of the Past, and Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, Birkerts describes the memoirist's essential art of assembling patterns of meaning, how the work stirs to life our own sense of past and present.
The Art of Time in Memoir is part of The Art of series, a new line of books by important authors on the craft of writing, edited by Charles Baxter. Each book examines a singular, but often assumed or neglected, issue facing the contemporary writer of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. The Art of series means to restore the art of criticism while illuminating the art of writing. Of the series, Baxter writes, "The Art Of series is meant to restore criticism as an art, with writers examining features of their craft in lively and colorful prose."
"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."—Publishers Weekly