Welcome to the world of Rebecca Solnit: one filled with books—she has written 20—and words, from essays to stories.
Solnit is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and most important writers of our time. She pulls you into her world, then makes you question your own. She fills hopeless spaces with insight and important conclusions. She’s not entirely relentless in her optimism, but she makes you feel like change can happen if you want it to—and we need it to. From her infamous (and highly enjoyable) Men Explain Things To Me to her essays on the web, here’s a quick guide to Rebecca Solnit.
Why should you care?
There are so many people, now and in the past, who have made use of the power of the first person. This is fresh on my mind, as it’s something I’ve been talking about a lot at school, but it’s quite eye-opening. To see how brilliant writers – and, so often women – are using themselves as a scope through which to view the world as a whole and the problems it presents us with is a really powerful tool. One of the best writers doing this at the moment is Rebecca Solnit.
The woman is a force. She is the “author of twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change, and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster”. Twenty books. That’s a book for each year I’ve been alive.
But the thing about Solnit is that she makes the person feel so widely applicable and universal, and that’s her power to me. She can take a personal anecdote, bring you into it so closely that it only feels natural when you step so far out of it to view the problems happening in the wider scope of the world. She weaves her own stories together with other stories, facts, statistics, and questions, and you’re left feeling educated and curious and a bit angry in the best way.
Where should you start?
One of the great things about her books, which exist as interconnected, related essay collections, is that they’re so easily consumable. What I mean is that none of them are very long, and it is easy to just keep the book by your bed, read a quick essay, and get on – you don’t have to dedicate yourself to a cohesive consumption quite like you would with a novel. This makes them great for everyday life, and it’s one of the (many many) reasons I think they should be required reading for all humans on earth.
Solnit is probably best known for the essays featured in Men Explain Things To Me, a collection that brought about the much-used term “mansplaining.” Read this along with the other essay collections Hope In the Dark and The Mother of All Questions—your heart will rejoice.
Further, her city guides are a true joy. Described (accurately) as “a brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature,” there are editions for New Orleans, San Francisco, and New York. Really, though, read anything – her books about walking and wandering make me want to go walk and think for ages.
Where else you can turn?
The force of Solnit’s beacon of light in what can feel like such a dark time is nearly blinding. Time and time again, she manages to pierce the cloud of fear, anxiety, and cynicism with the most motivating insight and curiosity.
If you’re looking for a taste of this now—and you probably are—the internet is your friend. Check out the following pieces: The Guardian’s “Protest And Persist: Why Giving Up Hope Is Not An Option”; “From Lying to Leering, on Donald Trump’s fear of women”; “City of Women”; and this piece about the loneliness of Trump, which fills up a horrible space with the beauty of words.
You can discover more about Rebecca Solnit at her personal website.