Author of the widely acclaimed New York Times Notable Book The Gutenberg Elegies, distinguished critic and essayist Sven Birkerts explores in this brilliantly written memoir what it means to be an American with roots in a distant culture. The son of Latvian immigrants, Birkerts describes how his struggle to find his own path thrust him up against the myths of his origins-the turbulent lives of his grandparents, whose artistic ambitions played out against a backdrop of revolution and war-as well as the excesses of the 1960s counterculture. A moving saga of a writer's painful-and comic-coming-of-age, My Sky Blue Trades is an absorbing chronicle of the circuitous path Birkerts took to becoming one of America's foremost literary figures.
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Sven Birkerts is the author of The Gutenberg Elegies, Readings, American Energies, and other books. He teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars and is the editor of the journal Agni.From Publishers Weekly:
The literary world isn't lacking for memoirs about growing up, especially lately, but it could certainly use more like Birkerts's. Author of The Gutenberg Elegies, Birkerts presents here a collection of essays about life as the offspring of Latvian immigrants, languorously telling stories about his grandparents and parents before moving on, almost reluctantly, to his own youthful tales. They are presented as flashes of memory, always leading back to his roots. He writes, "I do not have a sustained narrative to present, only a cluster of episodes and characterizations. I want to understand my relation to the family past, to figure out why the contemplation of it should unsettle me so." He speaks of familiar things: the Hardy Boys, a best friend, pellet guns. After adolescence, he describes hippie nights, early jobs and searching for a girlfriend. He infuses every topic with a sense of curiosity about his place in the world and in his family. Every riff about going barefoot or drinking wine has the kind of grace achieved only through the combination of hindsight and exceptional writing skill. The book gets its title from a line in Dylan Thomas's poem about childhood, "Fern Hill." It's appropriate, because Birkerts often adopts Thomas's dreamy tone and knack for crisp language. As his ruminations about being a kid gently give way to descriptions of adult excursions, there's a sense of maturation, both in the writing and the subject matter. Although the realm of early experience is overly trod terrain, Birkerts makes it fresh, compelling and well worth another trip.
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