A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit 2005

Solnit is a much-awarded literary and social critic whose work has focused on feminism, the environment, and socially disadvantaged groups.  She’s written for Harpers, the Guardian, and blogs in addition to her twenty books.  She’s received the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize among other honors.

This book is, in some ways, a more personal take on her previous book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking.  In this volume, she alternates chapters entitled The Blue of Distance which are more philosophical with chapters that are more personal and anecdotal.  Her style is hard to pin down. I struggled a bit with the first half but loved the second 100 pages, perhaps because I read them at one sitting, with pencil in hand, annotating her exceptionally fine writing on almost every page.  Here’s an example:

“A man once told me that much of my writing was about loss, that that was how I imagined the world, and I thought about that comment for a long time.  In that sense of loss two streams mingled.  One was the historian’s yearning to hang onto everything, write everything down, to try to keep everything from slipping away, and the historian’s joy in retrieving out of the archives and interviews what was almost forgotten, almost our of reach forever.  But the other stream is the common experience that too many things are vanishing without replacement in our time. At any given moment the sun is setting someplace on earth, and another day is slipping away largely undocumented as people slide into dreams that will seldom be remembered when they awaken.”

This is an excellent example of why I loved this book—insightful, beautifully rendered musings about the nature of life and memory.  Solnit’s ‘blue’ chapters pick up on the many meanings of the word—the blue of the distant horizon, the blue of our sadness, the blue of Yves Klein and his art, and the blues of American music.   I’m looking forward to re-reading her book on Walking and her award winning River of Shadows.