A Field Guide to Getting Lost

By Rebeca Solnit Rebecca Solnit is one of those freelance intellectuals you hardly hear about anymore—unattached to any academic institution, dependent (I’m guessing) on the kindness of publishers. An apprentice to the world at large, she has made a life’s work out of scavenging for connections. Solnit’s offbeat oeuvre veers through history, politics, nature writing, literary criticism, and memoir. Even a partial list of her recent books—River of Shadows, a lauded biography of Eadweard Muybridge; Hope in the Dark, a tiny treatise on contemporary activism; and Wanderlust, a voluptuous history of walking—boggles the mind with the tantalizing promiscuity of subject matter. Solnit described Hope in the Darkas “a zigzag trail of encounters, reactions, and realizations.” A Field Guide to Getting Lost celebrates disorientation itself, zigzagging over so many topics that it’s often hard to keep hold of the thread. Explorers, urban ruins, country music, Vertigo, grandmothers, and endangered species all find themselves loosely lashed together in these wide-ranging, semi-autobiographical essays. The word lost derives from the old Norse term for “disbanding an army,” and Solnit fears that “many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know.  ” InWanderlust she delved into the shrinkage of public space, and here she pursues the idea that children’s lack of opportunity to roam freely—”Because of their parents’ fear of the monstrous things that might happen (and do happen, but rarely)”—will strip away our culture’s sense of adventure and imagination. Wildlife has returned to many American neighborhoods because, “[a]s far as the animals are concerned, the suburbs are an abandoned landscape.” We live in an increasingly standardized environment, bouncing from one branch of Starbucks to another, and it’s almost impossible to get truly lost thanks to technology. Solnit believes that our fear of not knowing where we are is partly due to […]