Daphne Merkin is a cultural critic, memoirist and novelist. She writes for a variety of publications, from Bookforum to Departures, and teaches in the MFA program at Columbia. Her novel, Twenty-Two Minutes of Unconditional Love, is forthcoming from FSG in June, 2020. (October 2019)


‘Closing Time’: My Lost Literary World

Mobile book carts in Central Park from the Strand Bookstore, New York City, 1976

Although all of us sustain losses—of loved ones, friends and acquaintances—at some point in our lives, it is around this time that they begin to accrete, and at an accelerating rate. All losses leave holes in the fabric of life. The one uppermost in my mind today is the end of a distinct period in American letters, when literary culture held sway in this society, commanding respect and bestowing prestige. It was a world peopled by impressive and varied figures such as Lionel Trilling and Mary McCarthy, and, in its impassioned involvement with the life of the mind, made my contemporaries dream of gaining admission to it. That sense of an ending comes with a melancholic recognition that everything, including what once seemed to be a vibrant and entrenched style of intellectual engagement, is fleeting.