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The Faraway Nearby

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In this new book by the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness—Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story.

259 pages, Hardcover

First published June 13, 2013

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About the author

Rebecca Solnit

102 books6,743 followers
Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering  and walking, hope and disaster, including Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Cinderella LiberatorMen Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in the Dark, and co-creator of the City of Women map, all published by Haymarket Books; a trilogy of atlases of American cities, The Faraway NearbyA Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in DisasterA Field Guide to Getting LostWanderlust: A History of Walking, and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). Her forthcoming memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence, is scheduled to release in March, 2020. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at the Guardian and a regular contributor to Literary Hub.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 907 reviews
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,210 followers
September 23, 2016
Stories weave us together.
What are memories but the stories we tell ourselves about our lives?
If we really listen to what others have to say, we leave aside the self-centered cocoon of our beings to venture across unknown oceans. That’s an unselfish act in itself, and the boat we sail on is called Empathy. Readers generally have a penchant for that. And so do writers.

Solnit’s hybrid essays, half travelogue memoir, half literary critique blended with intimate digressions on her life experiences, exude empathy and the sort of pained recognition that heals those who try to knot the threads of her reflective writing together.
She searches for meaning in the roots of words, in the physical places she travels to, in the books that shaped her mental frame as a young woman, in the life-altering events that she unfolds in the Russian-doll mode, peeling off layers little by little, revealing bits of her metamorphosing self, exposing her wounds openly and the regenerative process that requires shrinking inside oneself in the refuge of solitude, only to expand later through a deluge of interconnectedness that belongs to nobody in particular and to everything at once. Sometimes, loneliness is beneficial.

Solnit is a master of the allegory. She builds up on metaphors that keep reappearing in the different essays that accumulate and multiply meaning at an exponential rate.
It all starts with Apricots collected from her mother’s garden that are made into jam that preserves the essence of a turbulent mother-daughter relationship while allowing it to evolve into something new, molded by suffering and misunderstanding but also by love, sort of like ice thawing into water, which invokes the letting go of former selves to embrace future ones in this continuous process of becoming.
Aren’t we all similar to Frankenstein? Created by bits and pieces, by presences and absences, a patchwork of the felt and unfelt in constant change?
Solnit finds mending in rupture when she is isolated from everybody in the Library of Water in Iceland, a young land, equally hostile and mesmerizing, which provides priceless meditations on the act of writing and reading:

“ The sun will rise, the winds will blow, the waves will lick the shore, the earth will tilt on its axis so that there is more light in the summer, less in winter, rains and snows will fall, if not as they used to, and the waters will turn to solid ice and melt again. This is the world that existed before life and will after us. In Iceland I lived under an homage to those primordial forces.”

Yes, Solnit’s book starts with apricots and it ends with apricots, but the woman who wrote the opening essays is not the same one that closes them. Solnit has undergone a transformation, just like the reader, who sees now his own life and crisis of myriad natures through the prism of Solnit’s all-embracing, cerebral prose.
A certain Virginia whose wild surname would leave track in the history of literature went into a river wanting to surrender to its swirling currents.
Solnit submerged into her particular river but managed to cross it, emerging as a different person, ready to embrace her new self instead of fighting it off.
Nothing is too alien to be far away, not when one has seen everything underwater with utter clarity.

Vatnasafn, Library of Water, Stykkishólmur
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
February 10, 2019
A wide-ranging meditation on illness, empathy, and art, The Faraway Nearby muses about what it means to transform a barren relationship and find authentic connection. At the core of the memoir is Solnit’s fraught bond with her mother; in lyrical prose, the author recollects the many battles the two waged against each other, and considers how their relationship changed in the wake of her mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. All the while, Solnit discusses the lives and works of artists and activists who experienced tremendous growth after witnessing or enduring great pain, and she surveys a small handful of fairytales, a form centered on transformation. Solnit’s writings about her mother are moving, her cultural criticism interesting, but the essay-chapters sometimes lag, especially in the book’s middle when the author describes at length a trip to Iceland. While not as great as Solnit’s best books, The Faraway Nearby navigates difficult and marginalized topics with sensitivity and insight.
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,783 followers
October 28, 2016
3.5 insistent stars

This author had me eating out of the palm of her hand until she changed the treat to cilantro. Grimacing from the soap taste, I ran to load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, which, thank God, prevented me from loading paragraphs of cement into my poor brain. It threatened to collapse under the pressure.

Oh yes, she pulled me in tight at first, I was all entwined and smiley and silly with glee. And then just as quickly I wanted to flee. Suddenly my chores seemed very important. I don't think I've read a book where I had the love-hate thing going so strong. Back and forth like a ping pong ball.

The love happened when she told an interesting story about herself, or when she knocked my socks off with weird and wonderful essays, all lyrical as hell. She talked of complex truths with much thought, curiosity, knowledge, and power. There was for sure some heart, but it was hard to see sometimes because her head did lots of the talking. Her heart clearly did the talking, however, when she described her experience with breast cancer. As a survivor myself, I identified with her breast cancer reality and wished I could have communicated my experience as brilliantly.

And I was fascinated as she talked about lepers, Che Guevara, the toddler who got stuck in a well, and cannibalism among Eskimos and polar bears. Mary Shelley, Virginia Wolff, all ding ding, damn! She charmed my literary soul to death as she wrote of cold, of empathy, of threads, and a bushel of apricots in all stages of being. Yes, she goes all over the place, and it’s great! Solnit examines strange things, and without my knowledge or permission, she taught me odd stuff that my brain slurped up vigorously.

However, she also bored me to tears. The book went from ding to dong so fast, I didn't see it coming. Suddenly I'm reading a master's thesis, prepared with care for a professor who no doubt really gave a damn. I didn't. Don’t ask me why some stories sang and others tanked; it’s just a matter of taste. I can’t tell you why cilantro tastes like soap to me.

On the other hand, the book really inspired me to do a word dance. I wrote a weird piece where I inadvertently tried to mimic her. Now that’s admiration. But my dance didn’t even come close to the beauteous moves she pulled.

But if I had to tell the author about the dong instead of ding, here is what I’d say: Give me the me me me! And even the she, he, they! But for the most part, just keep the "it" to yourself. I wanted more memoir, less grad school. And I'll say for the zillionth time, don't tell me about fairy tales or myths, or drone on about dense philosophies. And please please stop with all the Frankenstein business! I never read the damn book! So all of your heady analysis was a big turn-off.

But, still, right this second, I’m remembering all the good stuff. So I’m wondering how the hell I ended up giving this book 3 stars. Well, it’s 3.5 for sure. When it was good, it was very very good, but when it was bad, it hurt my head. The brilliance of Solnit’s writing never wavered. I just ended up racing to load the dishwasher too many times. The dongs almost ruined the dings, but it was a stand-off. So yes, I do recommend this book. The writing is friggin’ amazing.

Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,464 followers
January 18, 2015

“That vast pile of apricots included underripe, ripening, and rotting fruit. The range of stories I can tell about my mother include some of each too….There are other stories, not yet ripe, that I will see and tell in later years.” - Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

It starts off with a basket of apricots, apricots that become an allegory.The gift of apricots that Solnit’s estranged mother gives her starts to decay, much in the the same way as her mother’s mind (she is suffering from Alzheimer’s) is doing. Through the observing of the apricots, she makes sense of her mother and her relationship with her. Honesty and important insights throughout, this was a rewarding book.

It’s still early in the year but I may very well remember 2015 as the year I came across Rebecca Solnit. What she can do with an essay is something I can only dream of doing. The essays in this book are of the most creative and poetic I’ve ever read in my life. Solnit’s writing is quite simply, captivating. It’s obvious she has a deep soul, as is evidenced by her enlightening philosophical musings.

A common thread that runs through this is the author’s experiences with her dying mother, her coming to grips with it, as well as her own fight with cancer and other tragedies in her life. There is a sense of connection in the book as we are reminded that everything is connected as we are connected, the thread linking the narratives while creating a tapestry.The thread is also a journey of self-discovery that makes a lot of twists and turns along the way.

She reminds us the importance of empathy and to remember there are as many simultaneous stories going on as there are people:

“We are all heroes of our own stories, and one of the arts of perspective is to see yourself small on the stage of another’s story, to see the vast expanse of the world that is not about you, and to see your power, to make your life, to make others, or break them, to tell stories rather than be told by then.”

Additionally, I am rewarded with great insight on the role of writing:

“Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest.”

Apart from all this, Solnit is very knowledgeable and discusses many people and topics. Perhaps her musings on Che Guevara and Iceland were my favourite. Her clever way of looking at things, especially infused with insights from fairytales and mythology, were especially exciting.

I think it’s the mark of a great encounter with a writer when, as soon as you finish reading their book, you’re already on the lookout for more. Solnit had that effect on me.

As for the remaining apricots, “The two jars before me are like stories written down; they preserve something that might otherwise vanish. Some stories are best let go, but the process of writing down and giving stories away fixes a story in its particulars, like the apricots fixed in their sweet syrup, and the tale then no longer belongs to the writer but to the readers. And what is left out is left out forever.”

I would recommend this to all fans of the literary essay, and all those wanting to be inspired.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
December 8, 2020
I enjoyed the whole experience of this book, how Solnit’s mind works with all the connections she makes. I can’t remember the last time I highlighted so much, from “I began thinking in fairy tales” to I have wondered if we want other language for emotion, if we would rather speak of deep and shallow because the things that move people to tears are sometimes joyous and because the attempts to ward off sadness so often ward off depth instead to “the endings [of fairy tales and fables] are not the real answers.”

Despite my quoted quotes, this is not just a book about seeing the world through fairy tales. It’s also about what is chosen and what's disregarded in order to shape the stories of our lives, using as illustration the story of a stranded, starving Inuit woman who maybe ate forbidden flesh; of our changing stories we’ve been clinging to in order to survive, along with a reminder that some days/months/years it’s our turn to suffer and other times it’s someone else’s. It’s about “the empathy that is forgiveness”; it’s Solnit’s shaped account of helping take care of her aging, difficult mother, of her own scary health bout, of a respite in Iceland, to a later trip down in the Grand Canyon. She creates all kinds of so-called tangents, but she always returns to her starting point—another shaping.

A passage that starts Imagine all the sentences in this book as a single thread around the spool that is a book. Imagine that they could be unwound; that you could walk the line they make, or are walking it reminded me of a passage from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall that I quoted in my review: I see that I thought it the key to Mantel’s novel. Solnit talks of keys, too, that “sometimes the key arrives before you find the lock,” that sometimes when you’re looking at a door, willing it to open, a key falls through a window. I read to find these keys.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
March 2, 2019
"Surviving the horrific is likewise often done by shutting down sensation, by becoming numb to one's own pain…you erected a wall between yourself and annihilation or horror and sometimes it then walled you off from life."

The wall we erect between ourselves and trauma can become moldy and diseased, if at some point we don't chip away at it. Yet even chipping away at it causes some injury. So what then? These are some of the reflections found in this book of essays, narratives, research, and philosophical meanderings that are somehow interwoven to reach each reader. I say each reader because I do believe that every person who reads this book will find a piece of himself or herself in it, for somehow, there is a thread being spun to connect the world. The structure is brilliant - it's not too often that you come across an essay collection that pieces together the stories of the writer and historian in order to grasp the fabric of life.
"To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest."

This book came at a time in my life when I've considered place, when I've made a decision to spend a couple of weeks in the home place of one of my favorite authors, in order to get into my own openness. The essay, "Mirror" talks about using place as a means of healing self, and it made me realize how much I've done this in my life and how much of a therapeutic balance it offers, even when it sometimes serves as an escape from larger issues.
"And distant places give us refuge in territories where our own histories aren't so deeply entrenched and we can imagine other stories, other selves, or just drink up quiet and respite."

Sometimes books give us our "distant places." With this book, I traveled to Iceland with Solnit as she worked from The Library of Water, and I went along with her as she researched Alzheimer's, the disease racking her mother's brain; I sympathized with her as she battled cancer, and through it all, the penning of this book seemed to serve as her respite because as she suffered, she inspected life and in so doing, she dug deeper to understand her experiences.

I enjoyed "Mirrors" because it delved into the human psyche and I enjoyed "Ice" because it explored self, "the labyrinth in which we hide the minotaurs who have our faces," but most importantly, I enjoyed the educational ventures in all of these essays, as I learned a lot about historians, explorers, writers (Mary Wolstonecraft and Mary Shelley and at some point Virginia Woolf) simply in order to get a better understanding of life and self exploration. By translating the raw material of her life into universal stories, she helped me understand mine.

When do we live in darkness? With regret? At what point do we realize what we're supposed to do on this earth, versus what we're simply being pressured to do? These are some questions pondered, as well as the big issue of empathy. One would think that the books we read should teach us empathy, that if we've never been in a person's home, country, or situation, that we can still understand their story and feel some emotion. Yet even here on GoodReads, we see how empathy is not that common. If we're not contributing to the world by empathizing with others who don't live like us, then are we at least creating, or have we been enclosed within a cocoon of darkness, where we lack the guts to create? "Flights" explores this:
"Creation is always in the dark because you can only do the work of making by not quite knowing what you're doing, by walking into darkness, not staying in the light. Ideas emerge from edges and shadows to arrive in the light, and though that's where they may be seen by others, that's not where they're born."

Creating, designing, sometimes in the light, mostly in darkness, this is life.
"Elaborate are the means to hide from yourself, the disassociations, projections, deceptions, forgettings, justifications, and other tools to detour around the obstruction of unbearable reality, the labyrinths in which we hide the minotaurs who have our faces."
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,547 reviews1,821 followers
October 15, 2019
Everything changes.

Rebecca Solnit tells us that the essence of Zen Buddhism was once expressed as "Everything changes". In the context of the story that she tells, the narrative that she tugs out out of a slab of a couple of raw years of life that idea is a hopeful one, everything changes : from the painful relationship with her mother to her own cancer experience, there is death, loss and rebirth, change and welcome discontinuities. We experience this stage of her life as a labyrinth, a process of immersion in the dark unknown - the dark for Solnit as a place of creativity and reinvention, - and out again, death and rebirth. She abides, changed.

She has shaped her book so the reader experiences something of her labyrinth - the chapters on the contents pages are laid out as a bow, they curve down to the middle chapter "Knot" and then beneath the knot there are a mirror set of chapters curving back away from knot, reflecting the first set of chapters. On the bottom of every page of text there is one line of an alternative narrative running beneath the book suggesting the myriad other threads of thought and revelation that she might have used to tell us about her experience of these years of challenge and change. In those lines she discusses tear drinking moths "Moths feed on the tears of sleeping birds; we feed on the tales of loss and generation" (p.227) or "The moths fly on , enriched. We feed on sorrows, on stories, on the spaciousness they open up when they let us travel beyond our own limits" (pp248-250) , the story of Cupid and Psyche and it's variant Beauty and the Beast tales. While in the principal text we get the possibilities of a pile of ripe Apricots, her mother's Alzheimer's disease, a journey to Iceland, learning to say yes to opportunities offered (including I suppose a pile of ripe apricots), the reinvention and transformation of a story of Arctic survival and cannibalism, Medicine, Frankenstein,empathy, and Che Guevara. Solnit unfolds her narrative in such a way that all of this feels entirely natural and sensible.

At a different time in my life, the "right" time we might say, this would have been a superlative book for me a perfect marriage of style, content and method, or as we might say on Goodreads "Five Stars", but since I am not at the right time for it, I sense somehow either just before or just after the turning of the tide, then I feel it is simply a very good and pleasing book, nicely done. I have only read two books by Solnit and I have not been disappointed so far, perhaps I will end up becoming a fan.

I loved that she said"Disenchantment is the blessing of becoming yourself" (p.13) and with those seven words laid to rest the 150 or so years of angst over the disenchantment of the world.

Everything changes.
Profile Image for Carol.
322 reviews863 followers
May 4, 2022
This book. I cannot imagine that I'll encounter another book in 2022 that will be as perfect for me as The Faraway Nearby was. (I hope to be wrong, but can accept facts if I'm right.) I loved it on its own terms, but I also appreciated the brilliant demonstration of craft - the chapter titles that reverse and duplicate one another mid-way through, the recurring themes, the word origin and historical facts strewn throughout, the amazing essay presented in a crawl at the bottom of each page, the sense that every word is purposeful and under Solnit's control, and she knows where this is going and how to bring it home, even if the reader doesn't. I read so many debut works that show promise, but so many fewer books that demonstrate a highly-skilled writer at her best.

For the best proper review, access my friend, Dolors' review here. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I posted multiple quotations while reading, and they might be the best place to start if you're interested, but uncertain whether The Faraway Nearby is for you. I suspect that it resonated particularly because a key theme was her lifelong problematic relationship with a mother who didn't like her much, and how her mother's descent into Alzheimer's altered her experience of that relationship. On the other hand, many readers without a matching 5-piece set of baggage have enjoyed it and rated it highly to-date. There is much, much more to The Faraway Nearby than the journey of coming to terms with problematic parents.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,019 reviews458 followers
January 19, 2021
This is a collection of stories or essays by Rebecca Solnit. This was on my TBR list because I read a favorable review from a GR reviewer. It was certainly worth the read. There were some stories/essays that resonated with me (or parts of them) and some which did not.

• Apparently the time period that occurred across the book was 20 years of the author’s life. In that time, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and the disease got worse, turning the mother from a meanie mother to a child-like person.
• During that time, the author was invited, as a writer, to a temporary residence in Iceland. Her description of the 24-hour night and the 24-hour day fascinated me. I would like to experience that, although just for a bit. I guess I am used to, and like, the day being divided into light (time to get up and about!) and dark (time to sleep!).
• She also talked about canning a bunch of apricots and the process of canning (how it works), and I liked that.
• She discussed Frankenstein (1818) and Mary Shelley’s back story that was quite interesting. Also interesting was her description of the Russian doll aspect of the book, that it was a story nested within a story nested within a story. I like those books! And I haven’t read Frankenstein so that will be on my TBR list. 🙃

Some of her writing wowed me. An example in which she is talking about canning apricot preserves:
• …But to preserve something is to delay that act indefinitely. Maybe preserves are where a historian’s urges meet a cook’s capacities. I wish that I could put up yesterday’s evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream. A realization as it sets my mind afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admitted in the interim and taste again as needed. My historian’s nature regards with dismay that all these things arise and perish, though there will always be more clouds and more days, if not for me or for you. Photographs preserve a little of this, and I’ve kept tens of thousands of e-mails and letters, but there is no going back.”

I am really impressed after reading the scholarliness of the book, and how well it was written, how prolific this author is. She has about 21 books to her credit—dunno how she does it (does she have time to sleep?).

There was one element of the book I did not like. I wanted to like it. It was the table of contents and it was laid out as the half of a circle, and some titles of chapters repeated themselves. So, Chapter 1 was Apricots, and then there was a hard return and Chapter 2 was one tab to the right of Chapter 1 and its title was Mirrors, and then there was a hard return and Chapter 3 was two tabs and its title was Ice until the table got to Chapter 8, Unwound, and the number of tabs decreased, and the titles were duplicated of the journey outward, but in reverse order (i.e., Chapter 11, Ice, Chapter 12. Mirrors, Chapter 13. Apricots). So—I thought the author would in the second half of the book revisit elements and stories she had touched on as she was going out in the first half of the book (otherwise why repeat chapter titles), but as far as I can tell this was not to be. I did not see any relationship between chapters with the same names. Anyway, that is what I was expecting. 😕

• A companion book to this one (the dust jacket covers look to be the same but for the color) is A Field Guide to Getting Lost.
• This book was 2013 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award (Category: Autobiography).

• Includes a 5-minute audio interview: https://www.npr.org/2013/06/15/190446...
• Interesting website, I bookmarked it for future reference, maybe you will want to, too: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue...
Profile Image for Suzanne.
152 reviews41 followers
January 4, 2014
I loved this massive quilt of patchwork essays embroidered with new words, derivations, original ideas, folk lore, stories, and personal truths which are spun by Rebecca Solnit, an author who I have never heard of and know nothing about. I take that back. As I read this brilliant and textured work, I learned a lot about her and her values and fears and her erudition.
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If you are looking for college essays with an introduction, a body and a conclusion, this is not for you. Her titles are her inspiration. Her stories are spun from there, but go in many different directions. She may discuss Frankenstein , Che Guevara , leprosy and apricot liqueur in one essay, her thread stitching the stories together seamlessly .

I underlined at least 50 times because she was able to express so much, so clearly. Like an appliqué.

“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be seen. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then become a story-teller.”

She described her mother "as a book coming apart,pages drifting away, words blurring, letters falling off, the paper turning to pure white..." Have you ever heard a more apt description of someone you knew who was deteriorating due to Alzheimer's Disease?

She writes about empathy, heroism, envy and perspective. This is not a text book, nor is it a set of Commandments, though she does teach academic and moral lessons. She shows us, the readers, that the story is important, but it changes as it is told, retold, heard and reheard.

I can not do this collection of essays which is really a nesting of stories justice. They require a lot of attention because they are not simple and stand alones. They are connected, finely stitched, personal and universal.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,764 followers
August 1, 2015
"Time itself is our tragedy," Rebecca Solnit writes in The Faraway Nearby , "and most of us are fighting some kind of war against it."

A bounty of apricots slowly decays on Rebecca Solnit’s bedroom floor. The fruit, harvested from trees that once belonged to her mother, becomes–like Proust's madeleine–a way for Solnit to enter her own history. Her mother's mind has been taken over by the slow decay of Alzheimer’s. The daughter is left with overripe fruit and her mother’s memories, a few sweet as the jam Solnit preserves; many bitter as the liquor she makes with the pits.

The dilemma of these apricots opens this delicate, searching book that is many things: memoir; literary criticism; travelogue; an ode to storytelling; a history of Polar exploration; an examination of the life of Che Guevara; an exposition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the varied accounts of an Inuit woman who was forced into cannibalism; a tangled braid of mother-daughter relationships. That Solnit seamlessly unites these elements is a testament to her grace and brilliance as a writer. But there is nothing linear or definitive about her musings. Solnit meanders, circles back, jumps ahead, rambles and cavorts. If you must read with a compass in your hand, you will be frustrated. If you can travel without an itinerary, you will be enchanted.

“Place is a story and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there.”

The most vital aspect of The Faraway Nearby is this notion of empathy and how we are led into others’ hearts through the power of storytelling. But it isn’t just the stories themselves; we must be active listeners. Storytelling and listening are voyages and:

“If you succeed in the voyage, others enter after, one at a time, also alone, but in communion with your imagination, traversing your route. Books are solitudes in which we meet.”

The gifts and perils of solitude run in tandem with empathy. It is necessary to escape the noise of contemporary society in order to hear the world around us, as Solnit does when she leaves behind a most dreadful year and takes up a writing residency in a remote corner of a remote country—Iceland. But she also presents us with the ways that solitude can become loneliness: the disaster of her mother's disease and Solnit's own brush with cancer; the isolation of Frankenstein's monster, who was trapped by his wretched otherness; the creatures of the far north isolated by environmental catastrophe.

Redemption and salvation are found in our stories, in this reaching out to be heard and in the reaching back of those willing to listen. If time is tragedy, then stories are its triumph. Storytelling and storylistening will save our souls and render us immortal.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,019 followers
February 8, 2017
I loved the first few chapters, I did not love the middle and was ready to give up, then I figured out the whole thing and the last two chapters and also "unwound" were great. I think this would have benefitted from me reading it as a physical book rather than on kindle, and also if I had read it after a big emotional moment in my life or a big loss. It was lovely, but I had to push myself to appreciate it after awhile rather than sinking into it. I will be back again. I get it, intellectually, I just wish I got it with more than that, that it became more than lovely words and an intellectual exercise. Anyway, like I said, I'll be back.

(Longer review, with more reflection, included here in my fall/winter roundup on my blog: https://shouldacouldawouldabooks.com/...)
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
489 reviews596 followers
July 25, 2017
Rebecca Solnit is a writer I've always heard a lot about but never got around to reading. When she made the news recently with her remarkable essay on Trump, I realised it was high time I got my hands on one of her books. With her extensive oeuvre, it was hard to know where to begin, but The Faraway Nearby appealed to me with its focus on empathy and storytelling.

She describes this book as "a history of an emergency and the stories that kept me company." It explores a difficult time in her life, during which she experienced a break-up and a major health scare, and her mother's dementia emerged. Throughout her account of this period she discusses the stories that fascinate her: tales of Arctic explorers, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Che Guevara's travels among many others.

Solnit examines her relationship with her mother in great detail, and for me this was the most intriguing part of the book. They seem to have been at war for much of her existence. Her mother was always envious of her daughter's intelligence and blonde hair - Solnit compares her to the evil Queen from Snow White. But the ice thaws as Alzheimers begins to take hold and their roles are reversed. She writes poignantly about the sudden, child-like vulnerability of this once fearsome woman: "My mother had always wanted me to take care of her, but she pictured this a manifestation of her ascendancy, not her decline."

Solnit writes particularly well about nature. The polar regions hold a distinct fascination for her and a trip to Iceland seems to have been a formative event. She describes the "extravagance" of such places, "where summer hardly has darkness and winter hardly has light, as thought the light were gambled away or drunk down all in one long exhilarated draught." Later on she talks about how we use stories as a way of preserving memorable scenes and experiences:
"I wish that I could put up yesterday’s evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admired in the interim and tasted again as needed."

From what I gather, Solnit has earned a reputation for her ability to segue seamlessly from one subject to another, drawing surprising parallels between topics where there appeared to be none. But as she travels to wherever her enormous brain takes her, it can be hard to keep up, and she lost me somewhere around the middle of this one (I think it was her musings on Buddhism that caused my attention to waiver). However, her supreme talent is no doubt and many sentences in this wide-ranging book wowed me with insight and eloquence. I can't wait to read more of her work and if anyone has a recommendation on which one to try next, I'd love to hear it.
Profile Image for Tamara Agha-Jaffar.
Author 6 books247 followers
July 2, 2022
Rebecca Solnit opens her memoir The Faraway Nearby with a chapter on the one hundred pounds of apricots she receives from her mother. She dutifully spreads the apricots out on a sheet in her bedroom floor to prevent them from crushing each other. Each day she observes them in their different shades and different stages of ripening. And as she does so, she tells the story of her contentious relationship with her mother, beginning with her mother’s constant criticisms and rejections which continued well into her adult life until her mother’s gradual descent into Alzheimer’s.

As Solnit spins her tale, she traverses a wide array of topics, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shahrazad’s story-telling, Che Guevara’s work with lepers, her battle with breast cancer, fairy tales, her stay in Iceland, arctic explorers and arctic survivors, the blank slate of the snowy arctic, the visual arts, labyrinths, empathy and distance, absence, numbness, and spinning a tale of self. The recurring themes throughout are her relationship with her mother, the intricate interconnectedness and changeability of all things, and the stories we tell that make us who we are. “We think we tell stories, but often stories tell us,” she says.

Solnit’s tone is quiet, meditative, and intimate. Her voice is authentic. She takes seemingly disparate stories and connects them in surprising ways, weaving in stories from mythology as she does so. She structures her narrative so chapters mirror each other. Her opening chapter of “Apricots” is succeeded by five chapters and a middle chapter called “Knots.” Solnit then unties the knot or unravels the thread by repeating the same chapter headings in reverse order and concluding with “Apricots.” She is a Penelope weaving her tapestry by day and unwinding it at night.

With the final chapter, we come full circle, beginning and ending with “Apricots.” But we are not in the same place because Solnit is no longer the same person she was in the opening chapter. She has undergone a transformation as a result of her experiences and her story-telling. The apricots assume a metaphorical significance. They are the memories she needs to sort, preserve, and discard from her memory bank. Through the telling of her story, she loses pieces of her former self, experiences a death of sorts, and gives birth to herself anew. And as with all birth and death, pain is intrinsic to the process.

Solnit begins her memoir by challenging the reader with a question, “What’s your story?” She prompts us on our journey by sharing her story with sensitivity, depth, empathy, insight, and a profound sense of the interconnectedness and fragility of life. Everything changes, she reminds us. Nothing stays the same.

Solnit’s intimate and precious gift of her journey inspires us to reflect on our own story, the story that makes us who we are.

Highly recommended.

My book reviews are also available at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com
Profile Image for Francesca Marciano.
Author 18 books246 followers
August 14, 2016
It's now official: I am in love with Rebecca Solnit. I love the way she connects things, her brilliant associations are like a bird flight over a vast, encompassing landscape. She will take you from a room filled with ripening apricots to a cabin in the Arctic circle where a man breathes and his breath turns to ice till the room turns into an ice cave where he can hardly move, to a Museum in Iceland, called the museum of water, to a dark labyrinth lit by a bluish glow, she will explain why heat destroys and cold keeps, she take you by the hand and guide you on this strange path that seems labyrithine at first, but will turn to be straight as an arrow. A very unique style and genre. Poetic, scientific, philosophical, I am not sure how to define it, but it's a path of miracles and wonders as Paul Simon would say.
Profile Image for Katia N.
584 reviews657 followers
December 16, 2019
“Sometimes an extraordinary or huge question come alone we try to marry it off with a mediocre answer.” In this sentence taken from this book, Solnit has wonderfully explained my frustration with it. I’ve read it a few months ago, but i still remember the contradictory feelings from that experience. It was a mixture of delight and frustration, if you can imagine such a mixture. The delight was related to an elegant, beautifully aesthetic writing style and the book’s structure. She has based the structure on Mary’s Shelley 's Frankenstein, Russian doll of stories within the stories: ((((—)))). Her ability of weaving one story from another through brief associations are astonishing as well. But here comes frustration. The majority of the stories she telling in a book are well known like aforementioned Frankenstein, or Snow Queen, or basic biography of Buddha. When she mentioned a labyrinth I was thinking: “Oh no! Here comes the Theseus myth. And yes, it was coming my way. And the messages she is passing on through those stories are not very original and new as well. The central concept of the book is empathy and the journey of self-discovery after the traumatic experience. But again, she does not have much new to say about it. Moreover, I did not feel her overwhelming empathising when she is writing about her relationship with her mother. Her mother is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s decease. But this difficult situation is used in the book more to reflect on their dysfunctional relationship preceding the illness. And I did not feel Solnit really wished to look at the situation from her mum’s perspective which would be empathetic. In general, I felt a hint of narcissism and slightly teacher’s tone in the book.

I loved her writing and the ability to express herself on the page. But i did not discover anything new from reading the book. I will try her collection on the political topics and take it from there.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
February 9, 2015
In The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca moves between her mother's illness and death, apricots, a trip to Iceland, cancer, and quite a few other topics. They are woven together in an impressive way, and the topic that starts is the topic that ends the book.

I connected the most with the parts about her relationship with her mother because of my own current personal experiences.
“I thought of my mother as a book coming apart, pages drifting away, phrases blurring, letters falling off, the paper returning to pure white, a book disappearing from the back because the newest memories faded first, and nothing was being added.”

I read it because it was a selection for my World's Literature group and our year of focusing on Iceland, but only a few sections are really about that experience. It was more of a stop along the way for her.
“Distant places give us refuge in territories where our own histories aren’t so deeply entrenched and we can imagine other stories, other selves, or just drink up quiet and respite.”

She also writes about writing, reading, and storytelling, some good food for thought as I look toward teaching my storytelling class again in May.

ETA: Discussed on Episode 016 of the Reading Envy Podcast.

Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
November 13, 2015
Uma capa bonita; um título sugestivo; um comentário do The Guardian muito sedutor; uma editora interessante; uma espreitadela à média do Goodreads (4,18). E lá trás a Maria Teresa mais um livro para casa. Asneira!
Não é um romance. É um ensaio (ou será uma enciclopédia?), onde a autora - enquanto faz conserva de alperces - vai divagando sobre a mãe, os livros que leu, as viagens que fez, as histórias que ouviu, a política, o cinema, a arte, as doenças, e o diabo a sete...enfim, uma grande caldeirada, cozinhada por uma senhora muito culta. Comi metade e fiquei enjoada...
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,184 reviews1,064 followers
February 17, 2016
tired. no review. book good.


read for my 2016 Book Challenge: #16, a memoir. But also because I really, really like Solnit's writing
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
February 27, 2017
"Sometimes an extraordinary or huge question comes along and we try to marry it off to a mediocre answer."

"To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest."

"We make ourselves and in so doing are the gods of the small universe of self and the large world of repercussions."

"The patterns of our lives come from those things that do not drift apart but move together for a little while, like dancers."

The above is a small sample of sentences I underlined in The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit's memoir/essay that's chiefly about her mother (both before and after she was stricken with Alzheimer's disease), her residency in Iceland, the stories we tell ourselves and how they limit or free us, and the connections formed between writers and readers. Along the way a number of secondary topics are addressed, including but not limited to Frankenstein and its creator, Mary Shelley; various myths and fairy tales; climate change; art installations; phenomena of the natural world; preserving apricots.

As the quotes above may indicate, I did a lot of underlining in The Faraway Nearby. Solnit's perspective provided new ways of looking at many of the most common human experiences, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness and intelligence that made reading this book such a unique experience. What I didn't really appreciate was the structure, which was meant to circle back around on itself but to me mostly just seemed to meander. The book even had an extra line of text running along the bottom of all of the pages, like a news ticker on CNN. As with CNN, it's impossible to really pay attention to the main story and the ticker at the same time, so it's difficult to know what the point was, and frankly the book would have worked just as well, or better, without it. I can't lie, by the last couple of chapters I was so ready for the book to be over that when I realized it had 254 pages instead of 250 (i.e., I had 4 more pages left than I thought I did), I groaned in exasperation.

And yet, what I suspect will stay with me about this book is Rebecca Solnit's curious mind and the many places it takes both her and the reader. It takes some energy to keep up with her, but I suspect it won't be long before I willingly sign on for another visit to Solnit's world.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books926 followers
September 30, 2019
My second Solnit, in this case a circular collection of essays that voyage halfway out before returning with the same titles as the first half. Mostly they deal with stories, how we are not unique yet are, how the pronoun "I" is really a composite of the many stories that fed into us as we grew.

Solnit is fond of repetition and writes poetically enough. She starts with her mother's battle against Alzheimer's and returns to same. In between you'll travel all over the place. In fact, in single essays you do, too. One essay, for instance, begins as if the entire subject will be Che Guevara, but then Solnit notes how the rebel once wanted to be a doctor and visited people who had leprosy.

Next thing you know, the essay is going pages and pages teaching us about leprosy. Che Guevara is left in South American hyperspace. I had visions of red pen-wielding English teachers annotating Solnit's work, imploring her to stay on topic. But stay on topic she does. Eventually. It may take ten pages to return to Che, but return she does. Not only to him, but to just about every topic she brings up in this book.

For extended quotes from the book, here's one about the pronoun I being a sham of sorts.

And here's Solnit on the writing process and why reading plays such an important role in it.
Profile Image for Sian Lile-Pastore.
1,190 reviews150 followers
May 22, 2013
Rebecca Solnit has become one of my favourite writers, and I think 'Faraway Nearby' is the best yet. The book starts off about storytelling and how we connect through stories and how our lives are stories and through this we learn that Solnit's mother has Alzheimers and is losing her stories and memories and her connection to others. From this starting point Solnit also discusses art (yoko ono, Olafur Eliasson, Roni Horn, Ana Teresa Fernandez and more), literature (there is a fascinating bit about Mary Shelley's writing of Frankenstein - she began her story not that long after a volcano erupted in Indonesia which effected the weather in Europe and North America causing there to be red snow in Italy in June and famines in Switzerland where the Shelley's were at the time. 1816 became known as the year without summer and explains a little all the icyness in Frankenstein), snow and ice (and travels to Iceland), fairy tales and canning apricots.

Solnit writes so well and so wisely that everything she discusses is fascinating and her books are in turn easy to read and yet full of intelligence and wisdom.

(and as an extra little note - I had the british cover with red ink used for the title and author which rubbed off on my hand and made the white cover slightly pink)
Profile Image for Karima.
724 reviews12 followers
December 9, 2013
I picked this book up because I liked the title (derived from how Georgia O'Keefe signed her letters to loved ones). If I had read the blurb telling me that it was about her mother's Alzheimer's, I never would have picked it up. SO glad that I did NOT know this.
This woman is BRILLIANT! She blends essays (about such topics as Che Guevera, leprosy, Frankenstein and Iceland) and memoir around the central theme of her troubled relationship with her mother. DON'T be put off that it's another memoir about a difficult childhood. This book is SO MUCH MORE.
It is a book that begins and ends with apricots. And in between the apricots, Solnit will challenge you to evaluate your OWN stories.

An excerpt ( pgs. 241/2)

A physical therapist told me that chronic pain is treatable, sometimes by training people to experience it differently, but the sufferer "has to be ready to give up their story." Some people love their story so much even if it's of their own misery, even if it ties them to unhappiness, or they don't know how to stop telling it. Maybe it's about loving coherence more than comfort, but it might also be about fear-you have to die a little to be reborn, and death comes first, the death of a story, a familiar version of yourself.

Profile Image for Neal Adolph.
142 reviews85 followers
January 15, 2016
Rebecca Solnit is a woman who wields her intelligence as her greatest weapon. It is a strong sword whose blade is revealed many times in this fascinating book. About six months ago I started following her on facebook and have many times been impressed by the journalism she writes and the short updates she provides to her followers. She cares about things deeply and, quite often, they appear to be the right things to care about. The environment, refugees, human rights, dignity. Solnit's moral compass is something that can be easily admired.

That said, when I picked up this book I was hoping for something more or less quite different from what I read. I wanted essays of some sort, something I could grip into, something that I could play around with and agree with and disagree with. Instead I got a memoir which played around with the idea of what a memoir could contain - a memoir which played around with the idea of what an essay could manage to do. It is an interesting, original approach, and at times it produced some beautiful reflection wrapped in stunning language. At other moments I just didn't much care and continued on in the hopes that the various threads which were put into my hands would come around to form a tapestry. I think I ended up with something closer to a dish cloth.

Solnit is at her strongest where she ties together the ways that artwork, literature, unexpected journeys to unexpected countries, and a pile of apricots helped her deal with a rapidly deteriorating mother with Alzheimers - with whom she has never had a strong relationship - and her own health challenges. It is an impressive mixture of very different elements, even more so for how often it comes off as believable. She is at her worst when all of these metaphors fail to really connect in any meaningful way, or when she has explored them to their full depth, leaving nothing to the imagination of the reader and revealing just how shallow the symbols and metaphors actually are.

This suggests, I suppose, that Rebecca Solnit overwrites herself to her audience, making this seem like this is confessional work. Which is odd, as she has no need to confess to anything as far as we can tell as readers. If anything, it is her rapidly ailing mother who seems to need to confess to something, or maybe even her brothers, who appear as apparitions in a few sentences. Solnit, Rebecca, seems to confess to nothing more than being overwhelmed. But she does overwrite herself to her audience, not only in her metaphors but also in her words. The books weight as a piece of literature, or a piece of confession, would increase if she were more careful with her words and trusted her reader a bit more.

As a reader predominantly of fiction and least predominantly of memoirs, it was pleasant to read one which was so beautifully written and steeped in the world of art. As a young man incapable of experiencing this kind of grief and frustration, it was beautiful and refreshing to read about a relationship between a mother and a daughter. I gained something from it.

And she does have at least two great chapters in here - the second one titled Ice and the first one where she really explores the experience Leprosy, whose title I forget. Those are worth reading, as her exploration of ideas and themes are really quite powerful. I wonder if they could be enjoyed separate of the others, or if they are only powerful because of the rest of the writing around them.

And she also makes me want to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I wasn't expecting that. I just wish she hadn't beaten that horse to death.
Profile Image for Richard Gilbert.
Author 2 books31 followers
January 1, 2014
The Faraway Nearby opens with 100 pounds of apricots, collected from her ailing mother’s tree, ripening and rotting on Solnit’s floor, a bequest and a burden as if from a fairy tale. The fruit was a story, she explains, and also “an invitation to examine the business of making and changing stories.” So Solnit tells her own story, shows how she escaped it by entering the wider world of others’ stories, and how she changed her story as she better understood her unhappy mother and their bad relationship.

A key to this unusual book is the story in The Thousand and One Nights of the sultan who, cuckholded by his queen, decides to sleep with a new virgin every night and kill her in the morning. Scheherazade volunteers to end the slaughter by telling the jealous man endless stories, distracting him with suspense so that he spares her life; in time she bears three sons, and he becomes less murderous. “Those ex-virgins who died were inside the sultan’s story,” Solnit writes. “Scheherazade, like a working-class hero, seized control of the means of production and talked her way out.”

By the same token, there are almost too many stories in The Faraway Nearby to list. Solnit has said she’s a collector of stray bits, her method bricolage. Using that clue illuminates her apparent working method: there’s been a patient melding, with verbal transitions for topic shifts. Though her method is collage-like, with disparate subjects juxtaposed, the white space one would expect is rare. This makes for more demanding reading—less warning of new topics and less time for a reader’s preparation. You’re immersed a new story before you know it. Some readers will get lost and bored and close the book.

Toward the end, she returns to her mother and to her mother’s end, to those apricots. Pared to its bones, she tells us, this book is the history of an emergency—her mother’s traumatic decline—and of the stories that kept Solnit company then. But she tells us she’ll resist the essayist’s “temptation of a neat ending,” and indeed she does. Questions flood in, a ripple effect of the book; her method, which meditates on meaning, doesn’t always presume to supply it.
Profile Image for Claire.
651 reviews279 followers
June 19, 2013
Chapters or essays, with a book that reads like a Russian doll, opening out and then closing up again. It starts with the physical gift of 100 pounds of apricots, which reappear as metaphor and metamorphosis as they like the author change.

In the author's case there are the physical events around including her mother's decline into Alzheimer's and her own perceptions, enhanced by a residency offered by ArtAngel within the art installation, Library of Ice in Iceland.

For me the book can never be separated from the inspiring talk I attended at the Royal Festival Hall during the London Literature Festival. Rebecca Solnit knows how to captivate a live audience as much as she does, her more passive reader audience.

I have not read her earlier works (though I did buy Wanderlust for a friend a couple of years ago), I have the impression that this book is a more of a personal journey. But my interest is piqued, I will be reading more of her for sure. I love an author whose work defies categorisation. It just is what it is.

My full review here on Word by Word.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,575 followers
Want to read
August 7, 2022
Solnit is an amazing writer. I have had The Faraway Nearby out from the library for probably about a year now (always renewing/reissuing it by the due date; I’m no renegade!), and never got past page 54, so it’s high time to hand it back. When I do finally get around to it, though, I know I’ve got a beautifully meditative book about loss, memory, and storytelling awaiting me. “Books are solitudes in which we meet” was my favorite one-liner so far, and this my favorite passage:

“We are the heroes of our own stories, and one of the arts of perspective is to see yourself small on the stage of another’s story, to see the vast expanse of the world that is not about you, and to see your power, to make your life, to make others, or break them, to tell stories rather than be told by them.”
Profile Image for Bezimena knjizevna zadruga.
198 reviews110 followers
March 20, 2019
Rebeka Solnit je autorka čudesne knjige o hodanju o kojoj sam pisao, i koju pamtim u detalj i sada, godinama nakon prvog čitanja. Ta ju je knjiga ne samo proslavila, nego i otkrila genijalnost, intelektualnost, pedantnost i posvećenost ličnosti koja je bila u stanju napraviti čitavu enciklopediju jedne ljudske aktivnosti u kombinaciji proznog zapisa i naučnog štiva. Ta se ličnost ovde, kao i uvek kod pisaca, dodatno otkriva i oslobađa svojih ličnih demona, čineći to kroz nešto što liči na pokušaj pravljenja autobiografskog romana koji se pretvorio u introspektivni dnevnički zapis. Prilika je to za upoznati jednu stabilnu, mirnu, unutrašnog sveta bogatu devojku, gotovo uštogljenu u ponašanju i raspojasanu u načinu na koji promišlja svet oko sebe.

Sveprisutna tema severa, zime, hladnog vazduha, osim što je geografska u smislu autorkinog boravka na Islandu, ili studioznog izučavanja ledenih svetova, polarnih noći i nepregledne svežine, u isto vreme je i zaleđeni mentalni oklop kojim je ogradila svoje strahove, porodične drame i lične poraze. Sveprisutna tema severa, potpuno je opčinjavajući lajtmotiv koji će mi ostati nakon ovog čitanja i ove zime. Usputna zapažanja o Čegevari, o revolucijama, o konstantnoj potrebi za kretanjem, samo su bonus saznanja koja na nepogrešivo precizan, ili što bi drugi kritičari rekli topografski način obogaćuju utiske.

Nije ovo knjiga koju morate pročitati, nećete je lako ni pronaći, utapa se u policama, naslovom ne govori ništa, i ne isporučuje ni tračak drame, dinamike ili ritma koji će ubrzati ili ulepšati svakodnevnicu koju živite. Ali bi mogla biti divljenja vredan ostareli saputnik kojeg ćete sa uživanjem saslušati u polusatnom monologu u vozu, ili u nekom redu, ili ko zna gde. Onaj bradati nevidljivi mudrac koji isporuči znanje, koji obogati misli i koji nakloni šešir i nestane. Dovoljno.
Profile Image for Deea.
308 reviews87 followers
November 15, 2018
(better looking version of this review on my blog: http://elephantsonclouds.blogspot.com...)
"We need to begin
To face the troubles we are in
We are waiting outside
To source our lives.

We need to find
Those moments we fly
We need to fly out
And back into line."
I was in a Greek island, walking on narrow streets guarded by flowers and Mediterranean plants, by fig trees, olive trees and ivy, listening to Sophie Zelmani’s album Everywhere, stopping every now and then and reading small fragments from this book. At some point, I kept playing “Do You Think It Could Wait” (lyrics above) on repeat. This is why I probably associate this book of Solnit’s with Zelmani’s soft voice and with the landscape that was really getting me immersed in a dreamy state. This book has a sad tone, but it was exactly what I needed when I read it. I was facing a crisis of some sort and Solnit’s melancholic voice, addressing very deep existential issues, felt as if I was conversing with a friend that was able to fully grasp what I was feeling and understand, understand, understand.
“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.”
Stories guide us. Stories justify our deeds. Stories help us live. They bring us to the surface and they get us stuck in quicksands in which we trash or wells in which we drown. They are labyrinths translated into words, threads whose meanders reveal hidden patterns if seen from a distance. It is not us that tell stories. “Stories tell us” most of the time and only looking for the silence can we identify them and turn ourselves into storytellers, stop them from taking lead over us.
“Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. Not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around us.”
Some of us look for answers in the books that we read. Others look for consolation or that feeling that we can identify what we are feeling in someone else’s thoughts, hence some sort of connectedness and a balm for estrangement. Some of us find escapes in books or ways of travelling without any physical effort. I found all these in this book. All these and more. Alleviations. Solutions that I had never thought of.
“This is the strange life of books that you enter alone as a writer, mapping an unknown territory that arises as you travel. If you succeed in the voyage, others enter after, one at a time, also alone, but in communion with your imagination, traversing your route. Books are solitudes in which we meet."
We face change every day. Sometimes there are so many changes that one cannot help but feel overwhelmed. We struggle to keep a sense of constancy, but zen is the very ability to let go, to accept that everything changes. And yet, “…another name for change, if you look back toward what is vanishing in the distance, is loss.” Now we are not the persons we were yesterday anymore. We’re not the persons that we will be tomorrow. Each one of us is not just one, but multitudes. And our stories intersect. They influence other stories and are influenced by other stories.
“All stories are really fragments of one story, the metamorphoses, a fate sometimes as eagerly embraced as Daphne turning into a laurel tree to escape Apollo’s embrace, sometimes resisted as frantically as the affluent arranging for their remains to be cryogenically frozen, but embracing or resisting are optional, and metamorphosis inevitable.”
My story is my story. There’s no other way of writing its chapters than by living them, step by step. And so is everyone’s. Elusiveness is ever-present and time is never on our side, but these are the data that our existence uses to function. These and sadness, a catalyst that helps us in our quest to reach our depths, in our quest to become what we really are. Our ephemeral selves.

“On the firm wet sand at low tide your footprints register clearly before the waves come and devour all trace of passage. I like to see the long line we each leave behind, and I sometimes imagine my whole life that way, as though each step was a stitch, as though I was a needle leaving a trail of thread that sewed together the world as I went by, crisscrossing other’s paths, quilting it all together in some way that matters even though it can hardly be traced. A meandering line sutures together the world in some new way, as though walking was sewing and sewing was telling a story and that story was your life.”
Profile Image for Lauren.
398 reviews
December 13, 2013
"Maybe the word forgive points in the wrong direction, since it's something you mostly give yourself, not anyone else: you put down the ugly weight of old suffering, untie yourself from the awful, and walk away from it. Forgiveness is otherwise a public act or a reconciliation between two parties, but what goes on in the heart is a more uncertain process; suddenly or gradually something no longer matters, as though you have traveled out of range or outlived it. Then sometimes it returns just as you congratulate yourself on its absence." (p. 234)

"Some people love their story that much even it's of their own misery, even if it ties them to unhappiness, or they don't know how to stop telling it. Maybe it's about loving coherence more than comfort, but it might also be about fear---you have to die a little to be reborn, and death comes first, the death of a story, a familiar version of yourself." (p. 242)
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