Murky Depths: Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost is ostensibly a collection of essays on the varying ways that we, as the title suggests, “get lost.” Solnit approaches the idea of getting lost through the baseline implication of finding yourself directionless in an unknown place but, much more interestingly, she also approaches the idea from a number of different but applicable angles, like how one might lose themselves in a good song.

Solnit’s observations are many and vast, her recollections and anecdotes carrying the reader through city streets and unpopulated deserts. Her writing style pushes at the edge of prose, often nudging towards poetry while her focus jumps from one topic to another in jarring fashion, often in the middle of a paragraph and just as often without a clear connecting line. And yet, occasionally, as I waded through the murky depths that Solnit poured out, I was struck by brief moments of piercing clarity and brilliance, her heavy words pulling me towards a new understanding of love or loss or, often enough, the importance and challenge of writing.

I never quite felt at home in A Field Guide. My reading experience reminded me of how I felt as I read Swann’s Way many years ago: awed by what was surely wonderful and left with a feeling that such wonders weren’t really meant for me. Or, at least, that I wasn’t yet ready to accept them. Setting the book on my nightstand after I finished it, I couldn’t recall much of what I had just read with any certainty. But maybe that too is part of Solnit’s achievement. I had, after all, done what she had promised to teach me to do: In the maze of her words and wandering narratives, I had gotten lost.

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