A stimulating exploration of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown from the author of Recollections of My Nonexistence
Written as a series of autobiographical essays, A Field Guide to Getting Lost draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Rebecca Solnit's life to explore issues of uncertainty, trust, loss, memory, desire, and place. Solnit is interested in the stories we use to navigate our way through the world, and the places we traverse, from wilderness to cities, in finding ourselves, or losing ourselves. While deeply personal, her own stories link up to larger stories, from captivity narratives of early Americans to the use of the color blue in Renaissance painting, not to mention encounters with tortoises, monks, punk rockers, mountains, deserts, and the movie Vertigo. The result is a distinctive, stimulating voyage of discovery.
The virtues of being open to new and transformative experiences are rhapsodized but not really illuminated in this discursive and somewhat gauzy set of linked essays. Cultural historian Solnit, an NBCC award winner for River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, allows the subject of getting lost to lead her where it will, from early American captivity narratives to the avant-garde artist Yves Klein. She interlaces personal and familial histories of disorientation and reinvention, writing of her Russian Jewish forebears' arrival in the New World, her experiences driving around the American west and listening to country music, and her youthful immersion in the punk rock demimonde. Unfortunately, the conceit of embracing the unknown is not enough to impart thematic unity to these essays; one piece ties together the author's love affair with a reclusive man, desert fauna, Hitchcock's Vertigo and the blind seer Tiresias in ways that will indeed leave readers feeling lost. Solnit's writing is as abstract and intangible as her subject, veering between oceanic lyricism ("Blue is the color of longing for the distance you never arrive in") and pens es about the limitations of human understanding ("Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map's information is what's left out, the unmapped and unmappable") that seem profound but are actually banal once you think about them.