The world, according to Rebecca Solnit, isn't for the faint of heart. Or, I should say, it's not for those who think in strict binaries, or eschew complexity for simple stories. It is a world where hope can be found in disaster, arrivals are the beginning and the end, and assumptions about race, class, gender, the environment, America, drug wars and so on are set up to be studiously dismantled, always with humor and grace.
The San Francisco-based writer's latest collection, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, gathers pieces written by Solnit for Harper's, London Review of Books, Boom, The Nation, Orion, tomdispatch.com and others. Written over nearly a decade, the book's essays cover a large geographical territory, including Silicon Valley, Fukishima, New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico, Iceland, Haiti, Detroit, Iceland and the Artic. The range of topics, too, is as large as the territory traveled: Occupy Wall Street, urban gardening, the Arab Spring, Mexican drug wars, Mardi Gras and Carnival, the BP oil spill, Post- Hurricane Katrina, Haiti, Google Buses, Silicon Valley libertarians, the Inari Shrine, Hiroshima and Fukishima in Japan and more.
On Dec. 7, Solnit appears in conversation with Peter Turchi, another writer whose work dwells in maps, cartography and puzzles, at City Lights Books.
"Truth for me has always come in tints and shades and spectrums and never in black and white, and America is a category so big as to be useless, unless you're talking about government," writes Solnit in "On the Dirtiness of Laundry and the Strength of Sisters," an essay that starts with the oft-repeated argument that Thoreau's mother did his laundry—and was inspired, Solnit admits, by a Facebook beef.
In that same essay, essentially a defense of Henry David Thoreau disguised as an investigation into who actually did do his laundry (it's never revealed with absolute certainty), Rebecca Solnit defines categories as "leaky vessels”: "Everything you can say about a category of people has its exceptions, and so the category obscures more than it explains."