Poetic & polemic. I’ve been reading Solnit for years, and felt lucky when she autographed a book for me after a talk at UCLA. I wanted to tell her I was writing a feminist memoir, but I left feeling insecure, overdressed for her quiet consideration. It’s thrilling to have a view into her life here that goes beyond her public essays, the almost accidental voice that went viral from Men Explain Things to Me after a lifetime of conscious critical work about art and nature and justice.

This book begins with mirrors, then slips into description about the ocean that is so long and lovely it lures you in with a dreamy tone. Then the prose awakens with tales of her upbringing and maturation, escape and survival, how being ‘other’ helped align her with a community of others, a true family of outsiders in both race and sexuality. Here is a description of an early awareness, that “spoken words could be a little fire at which you warmed yourself.” Later, I was struck by her true definition of “crazy,” a word that I, my mother and countless other females throughout time have been accused of as a “euphemism for unbearable suffering.”

I finished this book at once jealous and exhausted. I understood what had made my stomach turn when reading Kerouac, when working on a movie with Charles Bukowski, when feeling left out of required reading, when warning my daughters to stay safe by limiting their movements. After finishing the book, I was disturbed by a new movie about women being murdered that was supposedly modern because it calls out victim shaming. Why do we need to see more women murdered at all? Our assumption that we are in danger is so true and the justification so insidious, we don’t even see how wrong it is. Solnit does. And she sheds light on it by telling her own story.

This is a smart read. And did I mention the cover?

Leslie reviews books from a writer’s perspective. Her curated list of 5 star books guarantees that they are worth your time – and her reviews explain why. Follow her on Goodreads for over 200 more reviews, and on Twitter for updates.

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