Since When is a pleasingly scattered series of reminisces, interviews, lists and character sketches by Berkson, who hung out in the 1950s, '60s and '70s with scads of poets, artists and other creative types ... Berkson died in 2016 without ever seeming to have needed to earn a living and he can be obtuse about his privilege, as when he blithely asserts that none of his crowd became soldiers because they weren't into war. But he has stories about all of the names he drops, ranging from Judy Garland to Larry Rivers (who sketched Berkson) to Leonard Bernstein, and the name-dropping never seems clubby or gross.
Since When is a sentimental prayer to the great artists Berkson knew, not unlike a bittersweet and light-hearted speech delivered at a memorial service. The qualities of artistic work he describes are as anecdotal as a memorable encounter at a party ... Since When is a sentimental prayer to the great artists Berkson knew, not unlike a bittersweet and light-hearted speech delivered at a memorial service. The qualities of artistic work he describes are as anecdotal as a memorable encounter at a party ... In his own way, Berkson seems to address the issue of art vs. artist, that tried question regarding whether a work of art can be judged in isolation from the actions of the artist ... When art becomes involved in power structures, such an approach to the artist’s relationship to art as that may be drawn from Berkson’s final adieus quickly devolves into what may be perceived as doe-eyed optimism.
Indeed, Since When is definitely disorganized; perhaps more appropriately, it is rumpled. In addition to straight memoir, the book includes miscellaneous notes, correspondence (by and to Berkson), scraps, and lists, including one of 100 women. It’s a disjointed affair. Which in less capable, less charming hands might have been a detraction. But Berkson’s prose is effortlessly, deftly charismatic ... Much of the pleasure to be got from Since When is vicarious. Particularly if one is well-read; if ever there was a book that rewarded paying attention in art and literature classes, Since When is it ... Indeed, as the book reaches its close, its pieces are increasingly fragmented. Where the first two thirds of the book positively hum along, the occasional quality of the work in Since When’s last few sections—now a piece reflecting on some books, now 'Memory Snippets'—leads to a choppy reading experience. But this fragmentation doesn’t equal a drop in quality; the book’s final pages contain diamonds.