Rebbeca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost (2017 , Canongate) is the first ever non-work related nonfiction essay collection I have read. And I have to say, I don’t think I have ever read something like it. I remember essays from my English classes, where we regularly had to hand in essays on course related topics, and I remember how I hated it. My essays, of course, were nothing like those of Solnit, who mastefully combines the natural, the experienced and the whimsical into thought collages that transport and transform. She elaborates on the theme of getting lost, or of losing the way in unexpected, yes: ways, and the paths she choses to go about her topic are the conversion of the very principle of getting lost, without, however, ever being random. They are not hard to follow, but hard to guess in advance, but Solnit takes you through them like the experienced guide on that tour through the Alpes/Andes/whatever your prefered mountain range is called. At the end of each chapter, you’ll be back to the point from where the excursion started, but most likely be transformed, having gained from the view.
How did I come across the book?
In a Verso christmas sale, I stumbled upon Wanderlust and emailed the reference to a friend. That was the first time I heard of Rebecca Solnit. Later, I found her name again when someone explained the origins of the term “mansplain”. I was intrigued about Men explain things to me, but wanted to make sure I wasn’t deceptioned again. (I tend to expect more radical thinking from nonfiction than the authors are willing to expose.) SO I decided to try something unrelated first, and the Field Guide spoke to the anthropologist in me.
When and where did I read it?
The last weeks of the semester seemed endless, and I really needed a tinyplace to go to on my own, so I got lost in this book whenever I needed a minute to focus.
Nonfiction seems to me photographic; it poses the same challenge of finding form and pattern in the stuff already out there and the same ethical obligations to the subject. (p.144)