Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Faraway Nearby

The Faraway Nearby
Rebecca Solnit

Barb and I were having lunch the other day, enjoying the sun and the quiet of mid-day, when she threw a book over to me and demanded that I read the first page. It was lovely. It reminded me of Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Teaching a Stone to Talk), and I took the book captive. The book in question is The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit, a companion to her acclaimed essay collection A Field Guide to Getting Lost. As I was reading I was mentally tabulating the people I had to mention it to, knowing that it would underscore an experience they had with clear, poetic intimacy. And really, Solnit's book is all about story and connection:
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.
Take a glance at the table of contents and you can see the arc of experience mapped via whimsical chapter titles: apricots, ice, flights, etc. The book frees Solnit up to slide all over her life, gracefully weaving anecdotes about self-mythologizing--how we make our own realities pasted against the backdrop of geology, or like an ancient Chinese painter's fluid strokes. Really, The Faraway Nearby is a breathtaking meditation on the stupidity and smallness of human concerns and also the brilliance of our cultural creativity. For instance, if you love stories and how integral they are to us, read Solnit's riff on this bad boy:
A sentence by the Marquis de Sade I read when I was young sometimes returns to me: “Ah, what does it matter to her hand, which is always at work creating, that this or that mass of flesh which today constitutes an individual biped may be reproduced tomorrow in the form of a thousand insects?” It mattered to the individual biped, but the exclamation in the form of a question points out that what is ordinarily imagined as disintegration is also, or instead, metamorphosis.
There were times reading when I had to ask, sorry, what are we talking about? But it doesn't really matter when writing is this beautiful, this thoughtful. My copy is now swollen with dog-eared pages; there's so much I want to share with those around me.

- Hannah

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