Cover image for My sky blue trades : growing up counter in a contrary time
My sky blue trades : growing up counter in a contrary time
Birkerts, Sven.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2002.
Physical Description:
279 pages ; 22 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.7 0.5 57605.
Personal Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PE64.B57 A3 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In The Gutenburg Elegies, a widely acclaimed New York TimesNotable 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 moving, compelling, brilliantly written memoir that probes what it means to be an American with roots in a distant culture. As a boy growing up in suburban Detroit, Birkerts always felt intensely uncomfortable with his family's ties to Latvia-the birthplace of all four of his grandparents. And yet his struggle to find his own path led inexorably back through the overgrown garden of family lore. Birkerts deftly weaves his own history (from struggles with his overbearing father to adventures at Woodstock, from lost loves to his emergence as a writer) with episodes from his ancestors' lives-scenes from Riga and Moscow during the Russian Revolution, tales of Paris and mistresses and family scandals. My Sky Blue Tradesis destined to be a classic exploration of the immigrant experience and the writer's inner life.

Author Notes

Sven Birkerts teaches at Mount Holyoke College and the Bennington Writing Seminary. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

As the author of The Gutenberg Elegies (1995) and Readings (1999), Birkerts has been instrumental in defining literature's role in an evermore fanatically technological society. He now brings his considerable writing skills to a memoir that begins with vivid memories of his Michigan boyhood and extended immigrant Latvian family. Birkerts excels at documenting the intensity of childhood impressions and the baffling hat trick of growing up speaking one language at home (an uncommon one in his midwestern milieu) and another at school, and close scrutiny of his family yields emotionally complex portraits, including those of his moody architect father and book-loving mother. But when Birkerts turns to self-portraiture, the lights dim. His analyses of relationships with friends and lovers during the 1970s are exhaustive, tolerable only because of his accurate evocations of the purple haze of those quixotic and hedonistic times. And his accounts of his depression, strenuous effort to write fiction, instructive career as a bookseller, and discovery of his gift for literary criticism are, for all of Birkerts' acumen and proficiency, overburdened with obsessive detail. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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