Rebecca Solnit is many things - a storyteller, a philosopher, a cultural historian, a journalist and a political activist. But she’s also a wanderer, and since I am too it seems pertinent today to write about her book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.”
Firstly, let me say that I didn’t go out and buy this book myself; it was a gift from a close friend of mine. And, honestly, the first time I read it, I really struggled with it - it seemed all over the place to me, a jumble of ideas, too rambling, too unstructured. Why had he bought me this, I asked myself? Of course, on second read, I now realise it’s precisely those qualities that make the book so fascinating. and why he'd had me in mind when he made the purchase!
“A Field Guide” is a series of essays about getting lost…and finding ourselves. Highly personal, rather anecdotal and full of quotes (some so clever, I actually took the trouble to jot them down in my favourite notebook), she writes of European explorers who wandered in New Mexico, tales of the desert, Hitchcock’s ‘vVertigo’ and the colour blue. Here’s something (not a quote, it's her talking) that, for whatever reason, really stayed with me:
“The question, then, is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction and somewhere in the terra incognito in between lies a life of discovery.”
Received wisdom, of course, points to getting lost as something negative - which Solnit disagrees with entirely. In fact, I’d say her premise is that we haven’t really lived until we have lost ourselves - her eclectic stories of an immigrant grandmother, life in the desert, memory and mapmaking bring that home. And this, indeed, is poetic prose…even if, as I said before, it is a rather rambling.
In her essays, I think the point Solnit is trying to make (and does so rather well) is that however self-confident we think we are, it’s inevitable that we ‘lose’ ourselves as the years pass (since changing with time is a fact of life). we change over time). Again and again, she also touches on the theme of uncertainty - reminding us that it’s ok not to know…to be unsure…to have no clear answers.
In conclusion, “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” will give you pause for thought, and quite possibly help you reflect on some some of life’s bigger questions, including how we cope with loss, and also how we create new connections to places (and people). Solnit’s book is a series of musings, wonderfully philosophical, with an ever-haunting refrain - that sometimes we need to wander off the path, in order to find something within ourselves that we never knew existed.