Rebecca Solnit’s philosophical treatise/geographical rumination/geanological foray/memoir The Field Guide to Getting Lost has been on my list of “books that got rhapsodical reviews but seem Srs Bsns and I’m not sure I’m ready to read” for a while. Partly, I avoided it because the paperback was expensive and not one of the ones that went on the Buy 2, get the 3rd Free table at my old job. Partly, I avoided it because every once in a while it would come up on someone’s big list of Books Everybody Must Read, because I’m contrary and I don’t like to be told what to do. I’d read snippets, though, and was intrigued despite my resistance to money and well-meaning advice, and finally I found a good ebook price in the Google Apps store, and downloaded the book for a little over $5.00.
I’m not beyond the straight-out self-help book, and I’m certainly a sucker for a well-written memoir (read Cheryl Strayed, fiction, memoir, self-help, just read her, it’ll be emotional rough going at times but I promise it’s worth it)– and the more eggheaded the prose, if I’m in the right mood, the better. Paradise Lost? Alain de Botton? Yes, please, to both.
Sometimes, though, a book comes along and strikes you in the metaphorical solar plexus at just the right time in your life. So while maybe I wish I hadn’t put off reading this book for so long, I’m glad that I’m reading it now.
The book is a rumination on all the meanings that being “lost” and being “found” can have– geographical, temporal, familial– permanent, ephemeral– self-constructed or imposed from outside. It’s a literal onion, one layer right next to and on top of the next, making my eyes water with all its emanations (which is not to say the book stinks, just that it’s powerful stuff).
It’s a short book, 105 pages by my e-reader, and maybe that’s good, because at only page 11, Solnit delivers this bit: The simplest answer nowadays for literal getting lost is that a lot of people who get lost aren’t paying attention when they do so, don’t know what to do when they realize they don’t know how to return, or don’t admit they don’t know.
She’s talking, in that particular moment, of people who become really lost out on hikes, in the wilderness, amongst dangerous rocks and perilous signs of weather unheeded. But there’s so much to be read into what she says just two sentences later: … there’s an art to being at home in the unknown, so that being in its midst isn’t cause for panic or suffering, of being at home with being lost.
You have to accept that you’re lost before you can be found, or do the finding yourself.