Whether she is contemplating the history of walking as a cultural and political experience over the past two hundred years (Wanderlust), or using the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge as a lens to discuss the transformations of space and time in late nineteenth-century America (River of Shadows), Rebecca Solnit has emerged as an inventive and original writer whose mind is daring in the connections it makes. A Field Guide to Getting Lost draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit’s own life to explore issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. The result is a distinctive, stimulating, and poignant 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 pensées 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. ~ Publisher Weekly