“A labyrinth, ” writes Rebecca Solnit, “is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains a beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return.” In wandering about the labyrinth, Solnit goes on, you “may learn that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it, become lost, spin about, and then only after the way has become overwhelming and absorbing, arriving, having gone the great journey without having gone far on the ground.”
In a book that is a single story—no, countless stories within a single beautifully told story—The Faraway Nearby wanders that labyrinth only to reverse and find its way back to the beginning. Solnit weaves separate and distinct stories that could be one and the same; stories about herself that could as easily be about you. I was quite sure at times that the stories were about me.
The publisher’s description says this:
What she made of the apricots, of her mother’s disintegrating memory, of an invitation to Iceland, and of an illness are the raw materials, but The Faraway Nearby goes beyond her own life, as Solnit spirals out into the stories she heard and read that helped her navigate her difficult passage. She takes us into the lives of others—an arctic cannibal, the young Che Guevara among the leprosy afflicted, an Icelandic artist and her labyrinth, a blues musician who cures himself of drinking by the stories he tells himself—to understand warmth and coldness, kindness and imagination, distance and empathy, making art and making self.
Not to spoil the story(ies), of course, but Solnit made it out of the labyrinth (there were watchers on hand to ensure this). She observes that a labyrinth “is the opposite of a maze, which has not one convoluted way but many ways and often no center, so that wandering has no cease or at least no definitive conclusion. A maze is a conversation; a labyrinth is an incantation or perhaps a prayer. In a labyrinth you’re lost in that you don’t know the twists and turns, but if you follow them you get there; and then you reverse your course. The end of the journey through the labyrinth is not at the center, as is commonly supposed, but back at the threshold again: the beginning is also the real end.”
Join us beginning February 19 for our next book club, in which we’ll be discussing The Faraway Nearby. We’ll can apricots, wear shoes made of ice, follow Frankenstein’s journey, fly with the swan man, and wander the labyrinth only to reach our center and return to our beginnings.
We’ll read together on the following schedule. I’ll post some thoughts each Wednesday, and we can share some conversation in the comment box. And of course, if you have a blog and wish to post about the reading, we welcome your links as well.
Wednesday, February 19: Chapters 1-4
Wednesday, February 26: Chapters 5-7
Wednesday, March 5: Chapters 8-10
Wednesday, March 12: Chapters 11-13
Photo by Jenny Downing, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by L. Willingham Lindquist.
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Maureen Doallas says
This is such a beautiful book, a great selection for discussion.
Sandra Heska King says
This introduction made my innards quiver. Not kidding. I can’t wait now for my book to arrive.
Elizabeth W. Marshall says
I just ordered mine. I live beside a prayer labyrinth and visit another one in the mountains every summer. Getting ready to begin the book on my kindle. Very intrigued. What a wonderful choice.
Will Willingham says
Looking forward to reading with all of you. 🙂
Julie A. Olson says
Joining you in this discovery. A newbie jumping on board.
Will Willingham says
Wonderful. 🙂 Happy to have you along. And let us know if we can help you find anything. 🙂
Elizabeth Lawson says
I have long been a fan of Rebecca Solnit’s writing. I finished this book in December, but would love to reread it with other people. It is exactly the kind of book to ponder. I look forward to the book group, my first with tweespeakpoetry as well. Thank you.
Will Willingham says
This was the first of Solnit’s work that I’ve read. (I have no good explanation for this…) I’m eager to discuss this with the Tweetspeak community, and so happy you’ll be joining us. :
Pat Osborne says
Another traveler on this expedition, another newbie. Looking forward to this book, which sounds amazing, and to the discussion with you all.
Mary Van Denend says
Count me in. I’m about to board a plane for the Yucatan in a few hours. Solnit’s book seems like the perfect choice for a faraway adventure. So many friends recommend it.
Vicki Addesso says
I am so glad I saw your tweet about this book club read – have read the first 2 chapters & am loving it! Love the stream of consciousness style of writing, & yet it is so connected, subtly structured. Moving story. Looking forward to moving on in my reading.