In any given description of a place, there contains both the locale’s history, appearance, and context, as well as the author’s own memories, feelings, and experiences. Every description falls somewhere along the spectrum of these two intersecting – it may lean heavily on seemingly non-biased detail, or it may be charged with emotion in order to evoke a particular feeling, but the author’s decision on what to focus on and how to convey those images depends on both.
Rebecca Solnit’s new memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence (2020, Viking), richly details the places of her adulthood from her late teens to present – specifically, San Francisco in the early 1980s as well as Nevada and the American West years later – in ways that completely intertwine her own story into the broader space around her, allowing each to inform the other. Solnit describes how she found her voice as a writer while in the Nevada desert, stating: “I met a place so stark and vast and, to me, strange, at which so many cultures and stories converged, that I had to bring together all the fragments of what I was doing into a new whole to have something that felt adequate to what I found there.” When describing her time in San Francisco and the changing neighborhood she inhabited for decades, Solnit considers the many who had been there before her and the changes that had already happened long before, noting, “all of that lay in the neighborhood’s past when I arrived, though knowledge of it lay far ahead of me.”
Solnit, well known for her work Men Explain Things to Me, had a lengthy writing career before her 2008 essay went viral. A thorough researcher, detailed observer, and critical analyzer, Solnit’s writing frequently zeroes in on a small instance or event that she paints into the larger context of the world around us, using poetic and elegant prose to do so. Sometimes meandering through different places and times in a nonlinear fashion, Recollections of My Nonexistence doesn’t always follow a straightforward storytelling arc, but it doesn’t need to in order to reach its greater points. Solnit shares much of the spaces around her, her own place in them, and the challenges of being a woman “trying to disappear and to appear, trying to be safe and to be someone,” despite the fact that “those agendas were often at odds with each other.”
You can check out Recollections of My Nonexistence online as an ebook or eaudiobook through denverlibrary.org, or as a physical book at your closest Denver Public Library location.
Denver Public Library is now offering curbside service!
Library customers can now place holds and pick up items using our new curbside service! Visit denverlibrary.org to order books, DVDs, and other library materials, or call 720-865-1111 for assistance. Once your holds are ready to pick up, you will receive a notification and you can schedule a date and time to swing by your branch of choice. Bookdrops are also open and ready to receive returns, all of which are quarantined before safely circulating again. Please note: Smiley and Byers branches will remain closed at this time for renovation.
Find up-to-date information about Denver Public Library services at https://www.denverlibrary.org/COVID-19.