A Field Guide to Getting Lost

FieldGuideA Field Guide to Getting Lost
Rebecca Solnit
Penguin Books (June 27, 2006), 236 pages
Amazon Kindle $8.82, Amazon Paperback $9.28
Barnes & Noble Nook $12.99

I first read about this book on the blog Brain Pickings. The author praised the book lavishly, especially the writing, which prompted me to buy it. I enjoyed much of book, and I have to agree that the writing was marvelous. Still, I found the book uneven.

The opening essay addressed the theme of the title directly. The remaining essays touched on the topic to  greater and lesser degrees. Her description of her Russian Jewish forbearers’ sojourn to America was interesting, though the only one who might have seemed lost was her aunt, who spent much of her life in mental institutions. There were stories of Spanish explorers who truly were lost and adopted the ways of the Native Americans. Then there was an essay on other Native Americans who kidnapped white settlers, some very unpleasant material.

On the other hand, her reflections on sad songs and travel in rural America resonated with me. It brought back memories of William Least Heat-Moon’s travel memoir Blue Highways. Indeed the color blue plays a central role in this book. Her description of the life and death of a close friend was both moving and troubling. Close to the end of the book she writes evocatively about her time in the Mojave desert with a sometime lover. Somehow she manages to seamlessly shift the scene to San Francisco and takes us on a tour of the landmarks where Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was shot.

In spite of those parts that I found less engaging, how can I not but feel well-disposed towards a book which ends with an image of elk on a remote peninsula in Marin county. After describing the elk Solnit writes, “The end of the world was wind-scoured but peaceful, black cormorants and red starfish on wave-washed dark rocks below a sandy bluff, and beyond them all the sea spreading far and then farther.”

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