Acquainted With the Night


The title shares its name with the Robert Frost poem Acquainted with the Night, which is quoted on the first page.[6] The book's structure uses twelve chapters, equating to twelve hours of night, from 6 pm to 5 am. Two additional chapters, "First Night" and "Night's Last Stand", bookend the twelve chapters as an introduction and conclusion. This hour-by-hour structure was used to move the narrative along logically while jumping between diverse topics.[7] The topics range from such disparate subjects as culture, superstitions, natural history, physiology, and psychology so that reviewers variously called the book "a compendium",[8] "a browser's book"[9] and full of "encyclopedic mini-essays".[10] Autobiographical passages are also included.[11] One reviewer noted the format uses personal observations that lead to discussions of broad subjects with "side trips into relevant supporting materials".[12]

The reviewer for the Quill & Quire cited the book as an example of a subgenre which an article in The Atlantic Monthly dubbed "mundane studies" referring to the ubiquity of the subject, like Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History and Witold Rybczynski's One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw.[13] Dewdney's writing in Acquainted with the Night combines a poet's point of view with an interest for the sciences.[2] The tone was described as "boyish enthusiasm"[9] and "highly condensed yet personable voice".[14] Gisèle Baxter, in the journal Canadian Literature, wrote that the its tone was set at the beginning of the book by "an anecdote of a small boy creeping into the moonlit, partly wooded backyard of his family home".[15]

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