The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
Published on June 13th, 2013
What is it about?
This non-fiction book is a beautiful, meandering look at stories, writing, family and memory, told by Solnit as she navigates her mother's Alzheimer's disease, her own cancer scare, the people of Iceland and a room filled with apricots.
Why are we talking about it?
This is one of more beautifully written books we've read this year, filled with insight and gut-wrenching phrases. It is simple to read, yet generates complex reactions in the reader. If you enjoy stories and storytelling, this book will expand your understanding of them, and yourself.
Who wrote it?
Rebecca Solnit is a San Francisco-based writer and activist who writes about culture, landscapes, cities and human rights. She writes for TomDispatch among many other outlets. Her book River of Shadows, about photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge and California, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001.
Who will read it?
People who love the psychogeographic-style writing of authors such as W.G. Sebald and Geoff Dyer, and the poetic phrasing and feminine sensibility of Terry Tempest Williams. People who love reading, and thinking about reading. People who don't mind narratives that deliberately repeat and echo their themes as they walk around an idea.
What do the reviewers say?
The Guardian: "The Faraway Nearby is a finely-wrought, intense and eloquent manifesto for hearing stories – and making them up."
Slate: "The book is a lovely one that, not unlike Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, may bring many readers catharsis or consolation. But its universality feels somewhat hollow. One loves Solnit more for her intelligence and her uprightness than for the broadness of her appeal."
New Statesman: "Solnit, always a voyager of large terrains, here seems sometimes hobbled by her own story and sometimes too keen to shuck it off and escape into what she has called elsewhere the blue of distance... Perhaps the best way of approaching The Faraway Nearby is as a work in progress – signs and way posts from a road still being travelled."
Impress your friends:
"From The Faraway, Nearby" is the title of a 1938 painting of an animal skull by Georgia O'Keeffe.
What's your story? It's all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.
In this folding up of great distance into small space, the labyrinth resembles two other manmade things: a spool of thread and the words and lines and pages of a book. Imagine all the sentences in this book as a single thread around the spool that is a book. Imagine that they could be unwound; that you could walk the line they make, or are walking it. Reading is also traveling, the eyes running along the length of an idea, which can be folded up into the compressed space of a book and unfolded within your imagination and your understanding.