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A Field Guide to Getting Lost Paperback – June 27, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
This meditation on the pleasures and terrors of getting lost is-as befits its subject-less a coherent argument than a series of peregrinations, leading the reader to unexpected vistas. The word "lost," Solnit informs us, derives from the Old Norse for disbanding an army, and she extrapolates from this the idea of striking "a truce with the wide world." It's the wideness of the world that entices: a map of this deceptively slender volume would include hermit crabs, who live in scavenged shells; marauding conquistadors; an immigrant grandmother committed to an asylum; white frontier children kidnapped by Indians; and Hitchcock's "Vertigo." Solnit imagines a long-distance runner accumulating moments when neither foot is on the ground, "tiny fragments of levitation," and argues, by analogy, that in relinquishing certainty we approach, if only fleetingly, the divine.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
To lose is to succumb to the fate that awaits us all--the diminutive sense of depletion and reduction. Solnit, though, disagrees. In her stunning collection of essays that make up A Field Guide to Getting Lost, for Solnit, loss is a transformative force, rather than a negative one--a powerful impetus for change that moves into the world of the liminal--the spaces between moments rather than the spaces that constitute moments.
Relying on notable figures ranging in discipline and trade from Henry Thoreau, Conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, and Parisian performance artist and judo extraordinaire Yves Klein to pull her through from a state of solidity to that of the fluid, that of the blue itself--Solnit walks us through landscapes and worlds that are altogether foreign and exotic, to strangely convey the most familiar landscape of all--change.
Solnit alternates between the constant imagery of the solid, the grounded, the ideas that allow us to plant ourselves in the constant--only to transition into that of the "blue"--that of the ethereal and atmospheric, that of the liminal. Every other essay is titled: "The Blue of Distance" allowing for discussion of the philosophical means of the color blue as an aesthetic principle and metaphor of fluidity--the intent of which is to bring us into the space between relinquishment and acquisition--giving and taking.
More than a simple collection of essays, where Solnit succeeds is in the connection to the personal. We create ourselves through our association with others, picking and choosing tidbits of cultural ephemera we deem appropriate to absorb into our own lives--to make our own--making Solnit's viewpoint wholly relatable. She almost takes the form of overt autobiography. Association with Solnit's points becomes inherent.
Although, the collection seems sporadic at times--the essays jump and move and transition like a child hopping from puddle to puddle mid-rain storm--hence the exploratory milieu, making the readability erratic. A singular essay can cover topics ranging in breadth from her own home life, the world of the Conquistador and pre-colonial United States, to the diminishing microbes of our environment, and the death of the desert tortoise. It's fascinating and intriguing, but at times comes across disjointed.
Nevertheless, A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a philosophical treatise on the idea of flux--the essence of the middle, and the spaces between places in which our bodies and psyches transition to worlds and climes that are foreign and beautiful. The book is a success in that it reminds us, yet again, that the only constant in life is change.
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