A Field Guide to Getting Lost

The perfect treatise for a city that moves around a lot

By Rebecca Solnit

Penguin (June) $15

San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit has written a perfect treatise for a city of temporal population. So many stop off here for a few years, on the way to or from Los Angeles or New York; this willful disorientation can be frightening, liberating, confusing, sad, and exciting, often at once. Even if you're here to stay, many of your friends aren't, and their transience can be just as bewildering. Solnit's extended assessment of the artistic, personal, and cartographical states of terra incognita is a quiet triumph and a finely detailed atlas to an inevitable and uncelebrated human condition. In these six essays, she deftly slips between memoir, art history, philosophy, music criticism, and natural history. To her, getting lost is variously a terror and a delight. "The Blue of Distance" is the long essay that forms the backbone of the book. It feels like an Olympic high dive into the Pacific, vertiginously spinning through centuries and disciplines, tumbling through thought and plunging into emotion. Solnit notes that objects far in the distance sometimes appear dusky blue, and via that observation waltzes us through Renaissance painting and the career of Yves Klein, modern Northern California and Cabeza de Vaca's unintentional 16th-century ramble from Florida to the Southwest, and the films, novels, and tunes that spring from people adrift. The effect is gently mind-blowing, and any reader who's ever been lost in love, in a city or a wilderness, or in her own head will be grateful for this complex and comforting meditation.

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