“More than revealing the insights he obtains through contemplation, Birkerts sheds light on the process of allowing connections to fuel ruminations that lead to a greater understanding of self. Readers will delight in the humor and insights conveyed in these enchanting and well-crafted essays.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Like a modern-day Proust, though at blessedly shorter length, Birkerts's keen eye and sinuous prose are triggered time and again by the humblest of objects. . . . [The Other Walk] should be picked up, reread and savored for its expressive beauty and its gentle reminder that we can find life's fullness amid its most inconsequential moments.” Shelf Awareness
“One of America's finest literary critics brings us 45 short autobiographical pieces meditating on the necessity and delight of quiet contemplation in a busy existence. . . . Sven Birkerts's thoughtful and elegant pensées reveal the enchantment awaiting anyone who slows down long enough to look.” The Barnes & Noble Review
“Birkerts' essays, many of them about fatherhood, some about his Latvian heritage, are full of the passage of time--nostalgia, regret, melancholy. . . . In each essay, he looks for 'the prompt, the sliver, the bit of grit that grows the pearl.' He looks for the 'smallest detail in the heart of the day.'” Newsday
“[Birkerts] is one of the foremost essayists working today. He doesn't care about seeming cool or sounding smart; he writes what he thinks. In this new gathering, he combines his typically astute literary criticism with personal essays about his first post-college job at Borders Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan; the night he learned to play chess; and his reflections on Saul Bellow.” Chicago Tribune
“In his latest collection of [essays], Birkerts remains astute, witty and surprisingly sentimental. . . . It's impossible to read these close-to-the-ground essays without reminiscing on one's own past, connecting the dots between possessions and emotions, say, or reconciling memories of old lovers and friends with the way things turned out.” Kirkus Reviews
“Critic, memoirist, and all-around man of letters Birkerts is a virtuoso of the short essay. Each of the 45 concentrated, autobiographical meditations in this evocative volume offers a glimpse into the evolution of a writer's sensibility, both in the memories and the vignettes they preserve and in Birkerts' caressing of language and the pursuit of meaning. . . . Birkerts' poetic dispatches portray a life of fruitful steadfastness and inevitable change.” Booklist
“Very much about making connections between the vast details of life, time becomes as central a character across these essays as Birkerts himself. His voice is one marked--for the better--by time. . . . This is not a voice of lamentation or complaint. [Birkerts] is honest and straightforward, at times humorous and at others surprisingly sentimental, but always unapologetic.” Ploughshares
“The Other Walk comprises 45 short pieces . . . and with each, Birkerts considers his route with a keen eye, wit, and spare, elegant prose. . . . He succeeds in guiding us into his head, allows us to take his measure, then leaves us feeling as if we have traveled somewhere new.” NewPages
“Birkerts doesn't overwhelm with nostalgia but invites us into that part of his past to observe and slowly begin to understand our author and the events that have shaped him. . . . It is easy to settle into these stories and feel at home.” San Francisco Book Review
Intellectualized personal remembrances of things past.
Birkerts (Art of Time in Memoir: Time, Again, 2007) is best known as a literary critic and author of the prescientGutenberg Elegies, wherein he predicted, in 1995, that the Internet as a widely popular source for information would be detrimental to our interest in language and sustained serious analysis. In his latest collection of lighter but no less considered essays, Birkerts remains astute, witty and surprisingly sentimental. The engaging pieces are varyingly spare and drawn-out, several as brief as one page and most covering two or three. With subjects including a landscape painting of his grandfather's, a reflection on the word "plunge" and how, upon a friend's death, he inherited a very fine pair of Italian leather loafers, there's no necessary order to the pieces. Though short, many bear more similarity to poems than to works of prose. "Consciousness," he writes, in an essay about a German poet, "is not for nothing, even if it is clearly bracketed by the moments of our birth and our death." Birkerts moves back and forth between his memories and the present, weaving them together in a dreamlike manner. They're not funny like those of David Sedaris or Ian Frazier, or in possession of any particular angle, but the real value and appeal of these pieces is the way they ripple out. Reading one after the other has the effect of skipping a stone across a pond; they're not long enough to delve too deeply for long.
It's impossible to read these close-to-the-ground essays without reminiscing on one's own past, connecting the dots between possessions and emotions, say, or reconciling memories of old lovers and friends with the way things turned out.