A Field Guide to Getting Lost – 4/5 Stars
I wonder about whether this book could be translated as so much of the languaging that happens here (to borrow from Heidegger, someone else whose writing is quite difficult to translate) involves associative and impressionistic wandering often based in a kind of almost punning. There’s a moment late in the book, to spoil a great point, about how in English to be “lost” can happen in both time and space. And that doubling there really speaks to the heart of this book.
The book is a long meditation on the concept of “getting lost” or “being lost”. She never analyzes “getting lost” in the American colloquial of “scramming” but is mostly looking at historical, literary, cultural, artistic, and other touchstone examples of things, people, ideas, and other things being lost or seeking to be lost.
And then book wanders from touchstone to touchstone exploring these different ideas and sometimes lingering with them for a while. It’s not a book I think I would have enjoyed reading all that much, but I think it’s a perfect kind of audiobook (read by Solnit) because the borderless elements of the book can flow in this format so well.
For reasons that are obvious to someone who’s read both, it reminds me a lot of a few Maggie Nelson books — especially The Argonauts and Bluets that both use this similar style, but this book, maybe because it’s a different author or maybe the change in topic seems to leave larger, firmer footprints in her wake. It’s also very different from the other Solnit books I’ve read, which are mostly collections of her piecemeal work.
Talking About Detective Fiction – 4/5 Stars
I really do love little books like this. This is a small, commissioned monograph by PD James in which she walks us through the definition, the origins, and history of British detective fiction (of the last 250 years or so).
I’ve read a handful of PD James book, enough to know some things about her writing, so her voice in this book is warm, instructive, and knowledgeable, similar to other similar books by writers who want to share their expertise and love for their writing genre. So what this isn’t, is a defense of detective fiction. She loves the genre, but is not defensive about it at all. She thinks it’s a form that has provided the world a plot and writing structure that is not limited to the genre itself, and gives a number of examples of literary fiction — Emma, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre for example — that are structured the same way, and she acknowledges like in any form, there’s good writing and not good writing to be found. I often find that genre writers want to defensively elevate their writing, but James seems to suggest that there’s no reason to do this at all, the writing is a medium and a tool.
Then what follows is the history, and this is the best part because if you’re keeping a list, you end up with a really good primer in the big names in the field. So if you’ve read a handful or are a bit of a scholar or dilletante (me) in the field, you walk away with a number of good recommendations from someone who really knows what they’re talking about.
The Year 1000 – 3/5 stars
A recent, short pop history about the year 1000 in various parts of the world, with the focus on arguing that this year (give or take a century) represents the origins of “globalism” as opposed to a few hundred years later with age of explorations. The most of my comments about this book is that I think the argument itself about this being the opening of the age of globalization is pretty underwhelming in the book, or more so that the argument is never really defined in any meaningful way and the stakes that the book puts forward are also not particularly spelled out. So whether or not I agree with the author’s assessment, what I really don’t have, is an explanation of why it matters.
The book itself is pretty interesting, if loosely held together, and I think that’s because it’s about at my level of interest for the topic. I am very interested in many of the topics, but an exhaustive and fully sourced book into the stories here, especially in Southern and Southeastern Asia I would not be able to follow or maintain interest. A more exhaustive look into the early sections of possible contact between central American Native peoples and Vikings, however, is really fun. It’s pop history (though perfectly well-researched) but probably too broadly focused for its own good.