Julie's Reviews > The Faraway Nearby

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
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bookshelves: bio-autobio-memoir, social-political-commentary, writing-companions, best-of-2015, read-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.
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Reading Progress

January 21, 2015 – Shelved
January 21, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
July 24, 2015 – Started Reading
July 24, 2015 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
July 24, 2015 – Shelved as: writing-companions
July 24, 2015 – Shelved as: social-political-commentary
July 26, 2015 –
page 120
46.33% ""We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking livs, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment.""
July 27, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
July 27, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
July 27, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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Julie Review to come, but right now I just need to steep in the sweet tea of Solnit's writing.

message 2: by Violet (new)

Violet wells Fabulous review, Julie. You made Solnit's book hugely seductive.

message 3: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee JUlie...breathtaking description of this book.

message 4: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Your review seems a tribute to the art storytelling itself. Wonderfully done.

reading is my hustle this one has been on my TBR shelf for a while. you have just inspired me to read it sooner. thank you, julie!

message 6: by Diane (new) - added it

Diane Beautiful review, Julie!

Patty Thank you for writing such a wonderful review. You were able to say things I felt, but did not have the words.

Julie Violet wrote: "Fabulous review, Julie. You made Solnit's book hugely seductive." Thank you, Violet- I think this might be one you love.

Julie Jaidee wrote: "JUlie...breathtaking description of this book." Jaidee, thank you! It's such a beautiful read.

Julie Sue wrote: "Your review seems a tribute to the art storytelling itself. Wonderfully done."
Oh Sue, how lovely. Thank you!

Julie Elizabeth wrote: "this one has been on my TBR shelf for a while. you have just inspired me to read it sooner. thank you, julie!" Thank you, my friend! I've have a long way to go to catch up to all Solnit's work. But now I'm so inspired to keep going. She's amazing.

Julie Diane wrote: "Beautiful review, Julie!"

Thank you, Diane!

Julie Patty wrote: "Thank you for writing such a wonderful review. You were able to say things I felt, but did not have the words." What a beautiful thing to say. Thank you, Patty!

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