A Review of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost
I first read this collection of essays about a year ago. Then it was the book discussed in Life’s Library Book Club. Now I read it again, with different eyes, more discipline and a stressful world around me. With the COVID-19 epidemic going on around me this book got a whole other depth of meaning. Now it was not only the book I read to participate in fruitful discussions with friends but also the book that I needed to quench my thirst. My thirst for the far, my wanderlust, my “Fernweh” – as the Germans call it – had never been as pressing as now when the boundaries of my travels weren’t financial hurdles, but the need to save struggling healthcare systems.
When I first read this collection of essays, I remember not particularly liking it. It seemed verbose and I was getting lost in it, which to be fair would have been an apt accomplishment for a book titled A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Now on a second read, I have more thought about Solnit’s very personal stories all connected by the common theme of loss and getting lost.
On this second read, this became a deeply insightful collection. And it inspired me to a lot of artistic productivity, so much so that I struggled with placing it all in conjunction with this article. There’s a depth to Solnit’s writing, depth of references that not only makes you feel being lost, it lets you smell, and see and hear getting lost. What I had interpreted as verbosity on my first struggling read through this book, that took me months, I now saw as a deep richness. Certainly, that was helped by already knowing the gist of the stories Solnit was about to tell me, but it also helped to read faster, more precisely, not stopping in the middle of a thought but at the end of essays.
In a sense, the last time I read this book, I was getting lost in it, and now again I’m getting lost in it but in a very different way. Then I was getting lost by missing the point the direction to understand where I was; now I was getting lost in an experience.
Solnit’s writing still is dense like a thick forest. And I don’t fault anyone for finding it too dense. Especially on a first read, this book might really make one feel lost at reading it, but now after I read it a second time, I can only shake my head at what I missed.
Now I almost wish I had more to say about it. I wish I could give you a song to navigate this book, I wish I had taken more notes to talk about the intricate details of this book, but that possibly has to remain something for the future because I still was too lost to write plentiful annotations; still, this book was too dense for me to see outside the thick of bush. Still, it was too dense for me to not get lost in details, still too thick to give you an adequate overview.
There’s no argument to this book really. Unless, you accept “get lost and experience the world around you with new eyes” as an argument. This book is just an eye-opening journey of thought through the landscapes of North America. And that probably is the worst you could say about this book. It is at points very American. But then these are personal stories. The Author is American. An expectation of an un-american experience would to an extent be misguided.
I can only recommend you to get lost in this book, full well knowing that getting lost in this book might not be possible for every reader.
There’s a real chance you might get too lost at reading this book, and I won’t fault you for putting it down and never returning. This book isn’t for everyone. You need a tolerance for frustration for dense prose, for feelings of being lost and alone. But if you’re ready to accept these feelings, if you tolerate being frustrated, this book is a treasure. A wealth of nature to behold opens up before you if you manage to get lost in these experiences of home and of far away.
My last book review was about another essay collection. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. And my next book review will very probably still be about Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s second entry in their Long Earth Series: The Long War.
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