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“A Field Guide to Getting Lost”
by Rebecca Solnit
I began reading this book while I was lost. For the last several hours, I had been riding a rental bike around Berlin with its flat terrain, mixed-up architectural styles and streets whose names perpetually change as they twist along imaginary rivers. At a coffee break in a Turkish cafe in Kreuzberg, I read her introduction which described my day: a deliberate act of surrender where time ceases to matter. I had entered a geographic state of uncertainty — of being lost — where the mind can be fully present. Her field guide came in handy.
Embracing the geographically unfamiliar is an old concept, rooted in histories of adventurers and the imagination of childhood, but our society is drifting towards fixedness. Maps, knowledge and time are increasingly objectively quantified, such that Solnit’s field guide becomes well-needed.
After her powerful introduction follows a series of short plotless narratives— its hard to categorize these texts, which combine her personal history with larger cultural patterns. She writes of the color blue and speaks of the infinite horizon, the science of molecules and of Yves Klein’s leaping into the void. She meanders about ruins, Blade Runner, punk rock and urban renewal. She discusses Borges’ labyrinths, the Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca and the film, Vertigo. These strands of thought all revolve around themes of getting lost and we fall into the words, not knowing what comes next.
While her personal narratives are less interesting than her ability to wind together historical threads, nevertheless, her own stories are the ones that activate the imagination. This book is a departure point. Like getting lost, it opens up possibilities rather than resolving them. I’d recommend reading it while you are traveling alone, and then you can apply the principles inside.