Essays on the Power of Story: Rebecca Solnit’s “The Faraway Nearby”

I picked up Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby when I saw it on a patron ‘s list of favorite books. I had been hearing Solnit’s name a lot anyway, mostly in reference to another book of hers, Men Explain Things To Me.

The Faraway Nearby is a collection of thirteen interconnected essays that range from the personal to the literary. Solnit includes intimate details of her life–her fraught relationship with her mother, her experience with cancer, her trip to Iceland–while weaving in the power of stories that range from the stories we construct for and about ourselves to The Thousand and One Nights to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Here is a quotation that captures some the essence of what Solnit explores in these essays:

We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller. Those ex-virgins who died were inside the sultan’s story; Scheherazade, like a working-class hero, seized control of the means of production and talked her way out.

I found myself pausing and bookmarking passages in each essay to revisit later. Solnit’s observations are quietly profound, her layered of stories and images cumulative in their effects.

Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby would provoke thoughtful discussion about just how powerful stories truly are–from the folk and fairytales we grow up with, from the books that we read and that have impacted our cultural consciousness, to the stories our families tell that we incorporate into our sense of ourselves. Solnit weaves these themes with nuanced mastery. I look forward to reading more of her work.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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