A Field Guide to Getting Lost is an interesting and unique book with a distinct personality. It is the title of the book which tempted me to pick it up, and the more I read, the more I was pulled in by the depth and obscurity of Solnit’s writing.
This book is a collection of exquisitely written essays covering diverse topics that flow effortlessly from one theme to the next. It laces through history, poetry, philosophy, art critique and personal anecdotes of the author, which are skillfully knitted with the concept of getting lost. The book is esoteric, and Rebecca’s lyrical and poetic storytelling makes it a delightful read.
Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian and an activist. She has written fifteen books on various topics, and is a recipient of the prestigious Lannan Literacy Award. Her book, On Landscape, Gender, and Art, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism.
As the title suggests, the book revolves around the concept of being lost or losing oneself, as the first step to finding something or being found. There are no characters or main plot; the stories revolve around Solnit’s life experiences and glimpses of history. There is a focus on self-exploration, and looking deep into how one needs time and space to understand one’s self. The reader may find himself feeling a bit confused with regard to the structure of the book, as it deals more with a concept rather than a story with characters and a plot. This is subliminally a manifestation of the book’s main theme, of being lost.
The book is made up of fascinating prose that will surprise the reader. Getting lost can mean so much more when one looks at it in all aspects – emotionally, psychologically and physically. It is not only a physical loss of something, but also possibly a failure, death, and love. Solnit has blended these notions, interweaving them expertly with random plots, quotes, ideas, personal memories, and historical and cultural references. The chapters are deeply moving, obviously written with great love and care.
Every chapter of the book uncovers a new idea of being lost – a memoir, explorers, Native American captives, country music, Vertigo, desert landscapes, punk rock, endangered species, artists, musicians to Jon Keat’s poetry. Certain parts of this book resonated strongly with me. I especially enjoyed the chapter on how being lost is about accepting change, an idea so simple yet so inspiring. My favourite, however, was the chapter about getting lost in colour; what an enchantingly beautiful concept.
Every reader will be able to relate to some part of the book, with every chapter being a different take. The book offers no answers; it is about everything, and nothing at all.
Rebecca’s sensitivity with her writing is remarkable and effortlessly rich; her insightful style makes one stop and think about her words over and over again. At times, her sentences did feel like they were never ending, lending the reader to wonder if she has gone off on a tangent, but then she would skilfully weave everything back together. That being said, the writing did, at times, feel heavy and overly descriptive. A reader needs to take his time with this book, enjoying every little piece, bit by bit, as Solnit dissects the concept of being lost from many different angles. The reader might need/want to re-visit many sentences to fully understand the depth of their meaning. There is so much to the author’s language and choice of words that can only be fully understood when the reader has space to reflect on what is being said.
It is not the kind of book that everyone will enjoy; some will love it, while others might find it a rambling of historical and cultural stories written in too poetic a repartee. Since the content is heavy, it will not appeal to anyone looking for a light read.
Solnit has knitted a stream of subtle truths that make the reader wonder what could happen if we ventured out of our comfort zones, taking the time and space to wander. The book tugs at the reader to let go of pre-conceptions, and experience uncertainty. There is much more to this world if only we take the time to decipher it. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how does one find these things without exploring and testing the limits of the self; without chartering into unknown territory? Go on, Solnit says, start walking and get lost. Who knows what you’ll find?