My Sky Blue Trades: Growing up Counter in a Countrary Time

My Sky Blue Trades: Growing up Counter in a Countrary Time

by Sven Birkerts
     
 

"With The Gutenberg Elegies, a widely acclaimed New York Times Notable Book, Sven Birkerts won attention as a graceful and thoughtful essayist, an eloquent advocate of literature in an age of electronic media. Now he shows what only literature can do, in a memoir that probes what it means to be an American with roots in a distant culture." As a boy growing up in… See more details below

Overview

"With The Gutenberg Elegies, a widely acclaimed New York Times Notable Book, Sven Birkerts won attention as a graceful and thoughtful essayist, an eloquent advocate of literature in an age of electronic media. Now he shows what only literature can do, in a memoir that probes what it means to be an American with roots in a distant culture." As a boy growing up in Detroit, Birkerts always felt deeply divided between the claims of his family's Latvian heritage and the seductions of his adopted culture. 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 into the excesses of the 1960s counterculture. He provides a moving saga of love and loss on the way to finding his own artistic vocation. The chronicle of a writer's painful - and comic - coming-of-age, My Sky Blue Trades is also a vivid portrait of our postwar era, from the tranquilized '50s to the present.

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Editorial Reviews

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. (On sale Aug. 26) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Essayist and critic Birkerts (Mt. Holyoke Coll.; The Gutenberg Elegies) here offers a splendidly crafted set of essays interweaving his youth as the son of immigrant parents during the Sixties with tales of his ancestors in Latvia. Born in 1951, Birkerts grew up in suburban Detroit and looked to books as a means of self-identification. He describes his struggles with his traditionalist parents as he attempted to submerge his Latvian heritage in American culture, his adventures in the counterculture, and the gradual process by which he came to peace with himself and discovered his gifts as a writer and literary critic. Those gifts are evident here, as Birkerts takes us on a journey at once deeply reflective of American culture and touchingly his own. This book is highly recommended for academic libraries, where students can use it to explore the writing process, and for larger public libraries as well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/02.] Mark Bay, Hagan Memorial Lib., Cumberland Coll., Williamsburg, KY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Keen, affecting, suspicious, evocative, subtly cool memoir of Birkerts's first 30 years. His complex narrative mimics the action of a mind, "juxtaposing past and present, suddenly extracting from beneath some ordinary moment a gleaming root of memory." Critic and essayist Birkerts (The Gutenberg Elegies, 1994, etc.) paints the big picture through the slow accrual of vivid portraits and images anchoring all that is forgotten. Son of immigrants (Latvian was spoken at home), as a kid he was unsettled by the contemplation of their homeland's legacy of concealment and myth, its otherness when held up against life in suburban Detroit. Birkerts goes bone-deep here-wincingly and embarrassingly at times, even when there are intimations of face-saving-to chart the rawness and immediacy of his childhood. Central to the picture is his father, an explosive taskmaster, although "the explosion is nothing compared to the ongoing expectation of the explosion." Birkerts rebels, in part because everyone else his age is: "We had all, it seemed, tuned in to FM radio at the same time, gotten fired up by the same bands, read the same few books-On the Road, Howl, Naked Lunch, Been Down So Long It Seems Like Up-and now we were linked in broad solidarity against the corrupt and avaricious system of the elders." He's not just running with his tribe, though; young Sven is a sharp kid, expectant and self-submerged. He has passion, so when his handful of relationships founder, the knife twists. Thankfully, even at rock bottom, there is reading, which sustained and fortified him, and Joseph Brodsky, a goad more than a mentor to Birkerts's writing, which through fits and starts finally finds the essay form. His act ofexcavation here uncovers a man of analytic intelligence who also listens to the logic of his heart. A piece of hard work, dredged and sifted often to the dregs of misery-but it registers and holds.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670031092
Publisher:
Viking Adult
Publication date:
08/26/2002
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.03(d)

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