I just finished devouring A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and feel as though I am now seeing life more vividly. Effortlessly brilliant and a testament to Solnit’s intellect, this work of literature ostensibly wanders a landscape of ideas and anecdotes, creating a beautiful love letter to the physical, metaphysical, and emotional concept of loss.
For me this book was reminiscent of one of my favorite books of all time, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, not only in its melancholy undertone and near-poetic prose, but also because it proves that a substantial plot is not the groundwork, or even an essential part of, a truly spectacular book. In fact, A Field Guide to Getting Lost contains no plot whatsoever but is merely a string of thoughts that have the power to change the way you perceive the world. Even without a continuous storyline, the book has an undeniable rhythm, and all Solnit’s ramblings are connected by the central them of getting lost as a means to find yourself, an idea that I have found myself enamored with ever since reading Wild. But Solnit takes the idea beyond the cliche, slipping into a world suspended between past, present, and future. She sets the tone at the beginning with a brilliant observation about the color blue that seems a universal principal about the unattainable; she states that “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths”, like the deep blue of the sky’s horizon, and the dreamy blue of the farthest reach of the ocean. “Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world”, Solnit observes. There seems to be a connection between distance and desire– nothing we desire will we ever inhabit fully.
In one chapter, Solnit seems to subtly reference the very book: “In essays, ideas are the protagonists, and they often develop much like characters down to the surprise denouement.” In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, it almost seems as though the idea oflostness is the protagonist, developing over the course of the book much like your favorite literary character. Solnit romanticizes the idea of lostness: “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. To be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.”
The best books answer questions that you never even thought to ask. A Field Guide to Getting Lost was one of those books. It made me find beauty in loss, mystery in nostalgia, and gave me the insatiable desire to wander– to get lost.