Julie Christine's Reviews > The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness

The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit
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Radicals often speak as though we live in a bleak landscape in which the good has yet to be born. Not only is there an alternative, but it’s here and always has been.

This collection of 29 essays, previously published in a variety of literary venues, demonstrates Rebecca Solnit's virtuosity as an compassionate intellectual, a keen and critical observer of the human condition, and a preeminent force in American letters.

Solnit is neither a politician nor an academic. She is not a researcher nor an environmentalist by training. She is a public citizen with a heightened sense of justice, an activist who advocates for the most vulnerable through her stunning ability to see patterns, to make shape from chaos, to order the world so that the rest of us can understand and find hope in the midst of utmost despair. Through her sharp and tender dialogue, Rebecca Solnit brings us to see what we have turned away from because it's just too much to take on. And through her words, we can see our way past the turmoil into possible answers. Into hope.

The essays in The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness range from the Arab Spring to climate change, from the crumbling of Detroit to the devastation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and in Japan after the trio of disasters in March 2011. Solnit takes these faraway or far-removed disasters and brings their relevance home to the reader. The geography she covers is so wide-ranging that the book comes with a map to aid in tracking Solnit's travels, yet it is the map of heart and intellect that leaves the most searing impression.

How many times did I grab my partner's arm while we sat side-by-side, to read him an excerpt, to insist that he read this essay or that, until I finally pushed the book at him, declaring it a must-read, a life-altering exploration into 21st century social justice? Because a few years have passed since the original publication of many of these essays, Solnit's wondering about the power of the Occupy Movement, the lasting effects of the Arab Spring, the masses rising up against the power of Google in a public transportation protest, take on an almost-poignant aspect. From the perspective of hindsight, we can see how Solnit's predictions play out and how her most fervent optimism fizzles in the face of American ambivalence, greed, and short attention spans.

Essays that stand out most strongly:

Solnit's scathing rebuke of mass media and its portrayal of disaster survivors, turning the depictions of 'looters' on their heads, in In Haiti, Words Can Kill
“If you grab that stuff, are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street?”
Climate Change is Violence
Climate change is global-scale violence against places and species, as well as human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.
Inside Out, or Interior Space
Maybe it’s important to make a distinction between what gets called material and what real materialism might be. By materialistic we usually mean one who engages in craving, hoarding, collecting, accumulating with an eye on stockpiling wealth or status. There might be another kind of materialism that is simply a deep pleasure in materials, in the gleam of water as well as silver, the sparkle of dew as well as diamonds, an enthusiasm for the peonies that will crumple in a week as well as the painting of peonies that will last. This passion for the tangible might not be so possessive, since the pleasure is so widely available; much of it is ephemeral, and some of it is cheap or free as clouds. Then too, the hoarding removes the objects — the Degas drawing, the diamond necklace — to the vault where they are suppressed from feeding anyone’s senses.
The Butterfly and the Boiling Point, a reflection on the Arab Spring and the cause of revolutions in general.
That the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can shape the weather in Texas is a summation of chaos theory that is now an oft-repeated cliché. But there are billions of butterflies on earth, all flapping their wings. Why does one gesture matter more than another? Why this Facebook post, this girl with a drum?

Rebecca Solnit's writing is lucid and luminous, her opinions informed and passionate, her optimism cautious and grounded, her inspiration undeniable. She holds our faces to the fire, forces us to recognize the danger and the beauty, and helps us see ways to help ourselves and yet be citizens of the world. Truly one of our greatest contemporary thinkers, activists, writers and revolutionaries. Highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

October 11, 2015 – Shelved
October 11, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
June 1, 2016 – Started Reading
June 2, 2016 –
page 33
9.88% "The Butterfly and the Boiling Point- an essay on the nature of citizen revolution. Please everyone read this. \n I can tell already, this collection will be in my Top 5 Reads of 2016."
June 3, 2016 –
page 60
17.96% ""Climate-change is global scale violence against places and species, as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.""
June 11, 2016 –
page 138
41.32% ""You see what you are looking for. Most of us are constantly urged to see the world as, at best, a competitive place and, at worst, a constant war of each against each, and you can see just that without even bothering to look too hard. But that's not all you can see.""
June 12, 2016 – Shelved as: best-of-2016
June 12, 2016 – Shelved as: read-2016
June 12, 2016 – Shelved as: social-political-commentary
June 12, 2016 – Shelved as: travel-narrative
June 12, 2016 – Shelved as: war-conflict
June 12, 2016 – Shelved as: writing-companions
June 12, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth Marro I will read it. I love Solnit's thinking and her writing. Can't wait!


Julie Christine Elizabeth wrote: "I will read it. I love Solnit's thinking and her writing. Can't wait!"
Oh Betsy. She blows my mind. I'm with someone now who has never heard of her and I'm all WAIT WHAT NO YOU MUST READ NOW!!!


Julie Christine Extraordinary. As many stars as I can give. Review to come.


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