Worth A Read: The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit

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The BUZZ: A collection of essays from the award-winning author of Men Explain Things To Me, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost

The GIST: In these stories about stories, Solnit’s curious intellect contemplates people and their lives as narrative threads. The title derives from Georgia O’Keeffe’s closing in her letters to friends and loved ones after moving to a remote homestead outside of Santa Fe. Time and space expand and contract similarly for Solnit, as she explores many topics while telling her own story in thirteen essays. The collection is a blend of memoir, social commentary and historical review. Her mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s, her own battle with cancer, an Icelandic writing residence, are all examined under a meandering microscope. In Apricots, and in Mirrors, Solnit uses the consistent elements of fairy tales to puzzle out her own trials, and what might be gained from them. In Ice, she examines the life of Mary Shelley to estimate the recipe of her masterpiece, Frankenstein. The compelling stories of artists, writers, poets and historical figures are woven throughout, intersecting in some way with Solnit’s path. The essays can stand alone, but are connected along a circuit of storytelling that follows an indirect timeline.

The WRITING: Profound. Solnit doesn’t seem to worry that her observations and conclusions might paint her in a certain light. These bold essays are an exploration of her own convictions, but without judgment or any bid for authority. Interestingly, I didn’t find them to be self-absorbed or narrow in any way. Rather, Solnit manages to remove herself from the equation, even in her reflections about her tumultuous relationship with her mother. The writing can be convoluted and complicated at times, but not without purpose. We are not led though chaos into order here. Instead, we are provided with some clarity and wisdom that might be made our own, but not automatically. Her belief that stories create empathy is stated throughout, suggesting to the reader that active listening is required. The crafting, curating and presentation of our own story is for others, not ourselves. However we are called to tell it, the tapestry stands incomplete until we contribute our threads and knot them in place.

BUY or BORROW? Buy. I’m new to this writer, but plan to read this one again, as well as checking out her other work. My review here seems weak and spotty compared with what is contained between the pages. Consider getting it for your artist/writer/poet friend’s birthday. (Thanks, Leah!) 

“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.”

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