I expect even some of the most stalwart of Solnit’s fans would not consider this her best book, as it seems a bit scattered, though it’s similar in general feel to A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Its “Russian-doll” structure functions less like burrowing deeper into the complexities of a diﬃcult period of her life and more like the tide retreating away from solid ground only to ﬂow back in. Yet for me the timing of this book was uncanny, as I kept ﬁnding topical moments throughout. Solnit has a lot to say about telling our stories, of the vagaries of illness, of the possibilities of empathy, of the slow pace of change, and of the isolated time she spent in Iceland. Parts of her essay from True North were recycled into those Iceland chapters, though it feels like new material here in this context. While a lot of the writing is very personal, it’s supported by her researched stories, rooted in history and art.
We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.