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Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir

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An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultu An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas. She tells of being poor, hopeful, and adrift in the city that became her great teacher; of the small apartment that, when she was nineteen, became the home in which she transformed herself; of how punk rock gave form and voice to her own fury and explosive energy. Solnit recounts how she came to recognize the epidemic of violence against women around her, the street harassment that unsettled her, the trauma that changed her, and the authority figures who routinely disdained and disbelieved girls and women, including her. Looking back, she sees all these as consequences of the voicelessness that was and still is the ordinary condition of women, and how she contended with that while becoming a writer and a public voice for women’s rights. She explores the forces that liberated her as a person and as a writer—books themselves, the gay men around her who offered other visions of what gender, family, and joy could be, and her eventual arrival in the spacious landscapes and overlooked conflicts of the American West. These influences taught her how to write in the way she has ever since, and gave her a voice that has resonated with and empowered many others.


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An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultu An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas. She tells of being poor, hopeful, and adrift in the city that became her great teacher; of the small apartment that, when she was nineteen, became the home in which she transformed herself; of how punk rock gave form and voice to her own fury and explosive energy. Solnit recounts how she came to recognize the epidemic of violence against women around her, the street harassment that unsettled her, the trauma that changed her, and the authority figures who routinely disdained and disbelieved girls and women, including her. Looking back, she sees all these as consequences of the voicelessness that was and still is the ordinary condition of women, and how she contended with that while becoming a writer and a public voice for women’s rights. She explores the forces that liberated her as a person and as a writer—books themselves, the gay men around her who offered other visions of what gender, family, and joy could be, and her eventual arrival in the spacious landscapes and overlooked conflicts of the American West. These influences taught her how to write in the way she has ever since, and gave her a voice that has resonated with and empowered many others.

30 review for Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Contemplative and mesmerizing, Recollections of My Nonexistence thoughtfully charts the famous essayist’s coming of age as a thinker, activist, and writer. In lucid prose Solnit recounts how, in her late teens, she left her suburban Californian home lonely and silenced for the promise of a vibrant life as a woman artist in San Francisco, embarking upon a decades-long quest to write books, join intentional communities, and inspire political change. Across eight chapters, each moving at a delibera Contemplative and mesmerizing, Recollections of My Nonexistence thoughtfully charts the famous essayist’s coming of age as a thinker, activist, and writer. In lucid prose Solnit recounts how, in her late teens, she left her suburban Californian home lonely and silenced for the promise of a vibrant life as a woman artist in San Francisco, embarking upon a decades-long quest to write books, join intentional communities, and inspire political change. Across eight chapters, each moving at a deliberate pace, Solnit drifts from recollection to recollection of what it felt like to grow into white womanhood navigating a culture of sexism and racism at a time when political and cultural change seemed a distant dream. Along the way she seamlessly embeds the social history of San Francisco and the American West into her account of her own life. The work’s easily one of Solnit’s best, and invites rereading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Solnit is an author I have meant to read for quite a while. I have another book of hers somewhere around here, that I received in one of my book boxes. I, now regret waited so long as she is a fabulous writer, essayist. She writes about the apartment in San Fransisco that she lived in for a decade. A beautiful apartment in San Francisco in an all black neighborhood, a neighborhood that was full of life. As in all the essays in this book, she than turns way from herself and talks about all the peo Solnit is an author I have meant to read for quite a while. I have another book of hers somewhere around here, that I received in one of my book boxes. I, now regret waited so long as she is a fabulous writer, essayist. She writes about the apartment in San Fransisco that she lived in for a decade. A beautiful apartment in San Francisco in an all black neighborhood, a neighborhood that was full of life. As in all the essays in this book, she than turns way from herself and talks about all the people, cultures that have been misplaced. Either for money, or ventures that will make money or just because someone else wanted what someone else already had. Again, the haves and have nots. She talks about violence against women, men who think they have the right to a women's body. Expectations on how bodies should look to appeal to men, of to feel good about oneself. Socities expectations. Her own brushes with violence and again she turns away from her own story to tell of violence against other women. As well as historical bias against women victims of crime. Books and what they mean to her. Her writing life and so much more. Elegantly and gracefully written. Her words just flowed. Yes, I was impressed and once I can put my hands on that book that is somewhere on some pile, I fully intend to dive in. ARc from Edelweiss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    One of the iconic stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses is the terrible tale of Philomela, raped by her brother-in-law and then silenced by him hacking out her tongue so that she can't accuse him or speak out about her ordeal. It's this classic intertwining of violence against women and the muting of female voices which drives Solnit's memoir. Don't come to this expecting anything like a conventional autobiography: Solnit retains a sense of privacy with regard to her personal life. Instead this is a k One of the iconic stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses is the terrible tale of Philomela, raped by her brother-in-law and then silenced by him hacking out her tongue so that she can't accuse him or speak out about her ordeal. It's this classic intertwining of violence against women and the muting of female voices which drives Solnit's memoir. Don't come to this expecting anything like a conventional autobiography: Solnit retains a sense of privacy with regard to her personal life. Instead this is a kind of biography of her voice, how she moves from a young woman harassed on the streets of 1980s San Francisco and aware of violence against women all around her to the advocate, essayist and outspoken feminist writer she is today. Solnit may not be a supreme stylist but she is intelligent, honest, compassionate and empathetic: she has that ability to reach out via her words, to move from the individual to a voice for other women, but without appropriating others' experiences as her own. She can be funny, too, not least when recounting how she came to write her classic essay 'Men Explain Things To Me'. Sharp but accessible, thoughtful, committed - a must-read for Solnit groupies and those new to her writing. Many thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Megan Bell

    Readers like me who, over Rebecca Solnit’s thirty years of writing, have fallen in love with her seismic, world-shifting essays will not be disappointed in this memoir, her first longform writing in seven years. True to her form, this is a memoir not necessarily of the events of Solnit’s coming of age, but rather the greater influences in her development as a feminist, an activist, and a writer in 1980s San Francisco. In these pages, Solnit describes the formation of her own powerful voice while Readers like me who, over Rebecca Solnit’s thirty years of writing, have fallen in love with her seismic, world-shifting essays will not be disappointed in this memoir, her first longform writing in seven years. True to her form, this is a memoir not necessarily of the events of Solnit’s coming of age, but rather the greater influences in her development as a feminist, an activist, and a writer in 1980s San Francisco. In these pages, Solnit describes the formation of her own powerful voice while interrogating the culture that routinely silences women through violence and disregard. By sharing these formative years, Solnit is sure to inspire and vindicate generations of women and offer much-needed encouragement to people of all genders to invest in voices long suppressed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    4.5 rounded down When I heard Rebecca Solnit was publishing a memoir this year it quickly became one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 - having enjoyed a number of her previous collections (including Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, The Faraway Nearby and Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises to name but a few) Solnit is one of my favourite living essayists. And this is a very "Solnit" memoir. Rather than being a straight retelling of 4.5 rounded down When I heard Rebecca Solnit was publishing a memoir this year it quickly became one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 - having enjoyed a number of her previous collections (including Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, The Faraway Nearby and Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises to name but a few) Solnit is one of my favourite living essayists. And this is a very "Solnit" memoir. Rather than being a straight retelling of the formative events of her life thus far the reader learns about the author and how she has become the writer she is today through snippets of her past which are seamlessly weaved into writing in a style typical of her essays. A key theme is (duh) her identity, and how gender is inextricably linked to that - and how her experience of gender through her life as a white American woman in the 20th and 21st centuries has contributed to the writer she has become today. I found myself relating closely to a lot of what she said and ended up highlighting long sections of writing. There've been times in the past where I've felt that even though the topics she has chosen to write about are quite zeitgeist-y and the essays are published still in that moment that they already feel a bit passé, but I have to say I never felt that here. Highly recommended to everyone, but I think those who are already fans of Solnit will enjoy this even more. Thank you Netgalley and Granta Publications for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    My, my, my .... that was an exquisite, though-provoking, sublime, powerful book. Sure, it's a memoir, but it's much more. Solnit recollects a writer's life, and the history, the journey, the articulation of the craft, the circuitous route to productivity and readership, was as inspirational as it was engaging, interesting, and inspiring. But, ultimately, Solnit's voice is a woman's voice, and not merely a powerful voice, but a clear and compelling and lyrical voice ... speaking about the evolution My, my, my .... that was an exquisite, though-provoking, sublime, powerful book. Sure, it's a memoir, but it's much more. Solnit recollects a writer's life, and the history, the journey, the articulation of the craft, the circuitous route to productivity and readership, was as inspirational as it was engaging, interesting, and inspiring. But, ultimately, Solnit's voice is a woman's voice, and not merely a powerful voice, but a clear and compelling and lyrical voice ... speaking about the evolution of her voice. And that's a remarkable story well told. I'm not sure what it says that, until recently, I was (almost entirely) unfamiliar with Solnit and that, left to my own devices, I never would have found her or this book. My sense is that Traister's GOOD AND MAD (which I read at just the right moment and found compelling and now frequently recommend) prodded me in this direction, and for that I'm grateful. Caveat/disclaimer: Based on its size and length, what looks and feels like a slender volume, I'd generally describe a book of this size as a little book, but it's anything but. It a big book ... in terms of content, ideas, gratifying riffs, etc. ... even if it's been marketed in a less-than-massive package. Nor is it necessarily a quick read. I found the short chapters perfect for savoring the book, digesting a little each day, often sitting and enjoying and ruminating on each (again, brief) chapter. ... And, throughout, I found myself re-reading passages - phrases, sentences, and paragraphs - that were elegantly crafted and demanding of additional attention and consideration. Reader's delight: I read the hardback version (not long after it was published), and I admit that I was intrigued ... not only as a reader, but as a photographer ... by the cover photo. Without offering any spoilers, I'll merely concede that I was immensely gratified, almost giddy, with the passage in the book that placed the photograph in context (which could not have been further from than what I expected). Nicely played, Rebecca Solnit. Now that she's on my radar screen (and reading list), I'm guessing I'll turn to Wanderlust next. But for now, I ecstatic that I found and read this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    One does not review Solnit, one imbibes her wisdom and words and feels grateful.

  8. 5 out of 5

    BecSoBookish

    This book was...fine. I enjoy reading Solnit's essays, so I was looking forward to reading her memoir, thinking that I would actually learn a bit more about her. This was very much focused on Solnit finding her voice and learning how to use it through her writing. The problem is that she neglects to tell the reader anything personal about herself. I felt so disconnected from the author. She almost completely skips over her childhood and starts the memoir with her as a young adult living on her o This book was...fine. I enjoy reading Solnit's essays, so I was looking forward to reading her memoir, thinking that I would actually learn a bit more about her. This was very much focused on Solnit finding her voice and learning how to use it through her writing. The problem is that she neglects to tell the reader anything personal about herself. I felt so disconnected from the author. She almost completely skips over her childhood and starts the memoir with her as a young adult living on her own. She skims over relationships, friendships, or anything that would showcase emotion. Solnit spends a large chunk of the book going over events of the 1970s and 1980s, dropping names of artists and writers and movements that I've never heard of, and only spending 20 pages or so on her career from the 2000s onward, which is the point at which she became well-known as an author. I think it was a mistake on the part of the publisher to market this as a memoir, since it really is a series of recollections on a writer finding her voice, with very little biographical information at all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    This memoir was my first foray into Solnit's long-form writing after having become a fan of her feminist essays, through which she gained popularity. If you liked those, this more personal piece will likely resonate with you too—her essays have a very distinct voice that blends the political and the anecdotal (the political is personal, after all) while remaining inclusive, and this memoir is written in the same vein. I love the title, and it's really the aptest one she could've gone with, since This memoir was my first foray into Solnit's long-form writing after having become a fan of her feminist essays, through which she gained popularity. If you liked those, this more personal piece will likely resonate with you too—her essays have a very distinct voice that blends the political and the anecdotal (the political is personal, after all) while remaining inclusive, and this memoir is written in the same vein. I love the title, and it's really the aptest one she could've gone with, since the thread running throughout each chapter is how she found her voice in a society that would've preferred to rob women of one. "I became silently furious, back in the day when I had no clear feminist ideas, just swirling inchoate feelings of indignation and insubordination. A great urge to disrupt the event [reviewer's note: the opening for an exhibition of Allen Ginsberg photographs, with two sad, mentally ill women as the only female subjects in the entire show] overtook me; I wanted to shout and to shout that I was not disrupting it because a woman is no one, and to shout that since I did not exist my shouting did not exist either and could not be objectionable. I was, in that room, that time, clear and angry about my nonexistence that was otherwise mostly just brooding anxiety somewhere below the surface." Keeping her background as a writer on art, culture, places, and political and environmental issues in mind, it might not come as a surprise that this is not your standard biography. You won't learn much about Solnit as a person as far as hard facts go, and more often than not, it was not so much about her, but rather about what was happening around her, and how that influenced her life's trajectory. It's more of a series of snapshots of a different time and place, a portrait of the artist as a young woman, recounting the watershed moments in her formative years (and beyond) that led to her becoming the writer and activist that she is, while fighting against a culture that wanted to silence and erase her, make her disappear. In more ways than one, it reminded me of Patti Smith's airy, bohemian memoirs, but less dreamy, more tangible and coherent (and Solnit criticizes many of the artists Smith reveres). The language is lyrical, the feelings very relatable, and much like Just Kids was a love-letter to New York City in the late 60's and early 70's, Recollections Of My Nonexistence is an ode to 1980s San Francisco, with its vibrant queer culture, before the gentrification (which she contributed to), despite the pervasive atmosphere of gender violence, and also to the vast expanse of the American West, in which she found direction and clarity by solitarily drifting and wandering, as Smith did in Year of the Monkey . She made me nostalgic for a time I haven't lived through, in a city I've only ever visited once, and deserts I've only driven through on dusty roads. "Out on your own, you're a new immigrant to the nation of adults, and the customs are strange; you're learning to hold together all the pieces of a life, figure out what that life is going to be and who is going to be part of it, and what you will do with your self-determination. You are in your youth walking down a long road that will branch and branch again, and your life is full of choices with huge and unpredictable consequences, and you rarely get to come back and choose the other route. You are making something, a life, a self, and it is an intensely creative task as well as one at which it is more than possible to fail, a little, a lot, miserably, fatally." "I have no regrets about the roads I took, but a little nostalgia for that period when most of the route is ahead, for that stage in which you might become many things that is so much the promise of youth, now that I have chosen and chosen again and again and am far down one road and far past many others. Possibility means that you might be many things that you are not yet, and it is intoxicating when it's not terrifying." The evocativeness of her writing is probably a big part of how she always manages to leave me feeling hopeful, despite the horrid things it often dwells upon. Many feminist works gets me angry and riles me up, which is good and necessary—nasty women get shit done—but too much of it, and, in the long run, you'll just wear out and despair. Solnit walks that fine line of educating and empowering, while also encouraging to believe in the potential for change. She's lived through many seismic shifts in society herself, which has given her her own hope, and she passes it along to the reader, as a little light to keep you safe and hopeful in the dark. In digital books, I often highlight quotes that make an impression on me; either because of the beauty of the writing itself, the pictures they evoke, the relatable feelings they describe, or sometimes even just because I think that they'd fit into a later review nicely, but I'm finding that I did a poor job here, or rather, Solnit did hers exceptionally well: I didn't highlight sentences, passages, or even paragraphs, but entire pages of text because they resonated with me so strongly, so I'm leaving much out. Instead, I'll wrap up with this beautiful thought; a different kind of nonexistence, and one I cherish more than almost anything. "When I read, I ceased to be myself, and this nonexistence I pursued and devoured like a drug. I faded into an absent witness, someone who was in that world but not anyone in it, or who was every word and road and house and ill omen and forlorn hope. I was anyone and no one and nothing and everywhere in those hours and years lost in books. I was a fog, a miasma, a mist, someone who dissolved into the story, got lost in it, learned to lose myself this way as a reprieve from the task of being a child and then a woman and the particular child and woman I was. I hovered about in many times and places, worlds and cosmologies, dispersing and gathering and drifting." Note: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. ————— All my book reviews can be found here · Buy on BookDepository

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nev

    Holy shit. Rebecca Solnit’s writing is absolutely gorgeous. Her memoir focuses on feminism, how her identity as a woman has impacted her life as a writer, and larger movements outside of her own experience. She writes about street harassment, violence against women, and how keeping women silent and discrediting their voices leads to real harm. I can’t adequately express how amazing this book was. So many passages and lines gave me chills. Especially during the sections focused on violence agains Holy shit. Rebecca Solnit’s writing is absolutely gorgeous. Her memoir focuses on feminism, how her identity as a woman has impacted her life as a writer, and larger movements outside of her own experience. She writes about street harassment, violence against women, and how keeping women silent and discrediting their voices leads to real harm. I can’t adequately express how amazing this book was. So many passages and lines gave me chills. Especially during the sections focused on violence against women. This is the first book I’ve read from Rebecca Solnit but now I’m definitely going to seek out more of her writing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    In a series of beautifully written essays, Rebecca Solnit shares her life and what inspired her in her quest for individuality and respect as a person who writes and thinks, to not be fetishized. She presents a well rounded description of what it has meant living in San Francisco, a city that itself has been fetishized and has changed before her eyes, neighborhoods transforming from zones of danger to whitewashed havens of coffee shops but where it is less perilous for women in particular to wal In a series of beautifully written essays, Rebecca Solnit shares her life and what inspired her in her quest for individuality and respect as a person who writes and thinks, to not be fetishized. She presents a well rounded description of what it has meant living in San Francisco, a city that itself has been fetishized and has changed before her eyes, neighborhoods transforming from zones of danger to whitewashed havens of coffee shops but where it is less perilous for women in particular to walk at night. Full disclosure, I lived around the corner from her for a number of years and watched that same neighborhood in transition.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Abigail Bok

    Recollections of My Nonexistence is one of Rebecca Solnit’s more personal books, but that doesn’t mean she has sacrificed one whit of her sharp observation and critical detachment. It opens with her youthful move to a small apartment in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of San Francisco, escaping a childhood home that was dominated by a violent father. Her mother and brothers she largely left behind as well, though her younger brother crops up periodically in the memoir as a loved figure. In the Recollections of My Nonexistence is one of Rebecca Solnit’s more personal books, but that doesn’t mean she has sacrificed one whit of her sharp observation and critical detachment. It opens with her youthful move to a small apartment in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of San Francisco, escaping a childhood home that was dominated by a violent father. Her mother and brothers she largely left behind as well, though her younger brother crops up periodically in the memoir as a loved figure. In the city she encountered the sort of relentless harassment and physical threat that used to be a constant feature of young women’s lives and still sometimes is; she describes it in clinical detail and speaks eloquently of the lasting psychological harm it causes. These early passages are some of the most lucid analysis I have ever read of the impact on women of male privilege and the way misogyny ultimately cripples everyone in our society; the language fell like stones into my heart, as real and recognizable and inescapably familiar as my own skin. Proceeding into her early career, Solnit describes some of the ways she was marginalized and silenced and shunted aside in the course of establishing her reputation. While these recollections are embedded in the broader context of our society’s blindness toward and resistance to women’s contributions in the realm of ideas, they occasionally veered perilously close to whining to my ear. But those recollections also contribute to the culminating section of the book, where Solnit clarifies that attempts to silence women and murderous rage are very different things, but they have their origin in common attitudes. As she says, “I’ve sometimes been taken to task by people as though I equate minor indignities with major crimes, people who don’t or prefer not to understand that we talk about a lot of things on a spectrum, and we can distinguish the different points on the spectrum, but the point is that it’s one spectrum. . . . Having your subject of expertise explained to you by a fool who does not know that he does not know what he’s talking about or who he’s talking to is on a spectrum, and . . . the other end of the spectrum is full of violent death.” In the end she finds strength in her experiences, and progress and reasons for hope. I hope she is right, though the weight of the previously described experiences is so heavy that it’s hard to believe in hope. Along the way, there are so many of those perfectly illuminating sentences that bring me back over and over to Solnit’s work, passages that make me feel for a moment that I truly understand the world. This book is an important cultural document, clear-eyed and eloquent.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    Having read a few of Rebecca Solnit's collections, I'm used to her meandering mind or circular style of narrative, so while this might have a #memoir tag that indicates a book recounts a slice of the author's life, Solnit's essays are less 'slice of life' and more 'thought bubbles' as she starts out recalling her early adult life, eight years in a neighbourhood of San Franscisco, the people she came into contact with, the situations she avoided as a woman and then pauses now from years afar and Having read a few of Rebecca Solnit's collections, I'm used to her meandering mind or circular style of narrative, so while this might have a #memoir tag that indicates a book recounts a slice of the author's life, Solnit's essays are less 'slice of life' and more 'thought bubbles' as she starts out recalling her early adult life, eight years in a neighbourhood of San Franscisco, the people she came into contact with, the situations she avoided as a woman and then pauses now from years afar and wonders about her impact on that neighbourhood, her contribution to its demise, to its gentrification removing its diversity, colour, vibrancy and ultimately affordability. The title perhaps pays homage to Diana di Prima's Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, a feminist beatnik poet I first came across earlier in 2020 when I was reading all I could about the year 1968, the year she wrote Revolutionary Letters, a series of poems composed of utopian anarchism and ecological awareness, scribbled from a spiritual, feminist perspective. All touch points within Solnit's reportoire, however she writes in and of a different era, scratching at the surface of our nonexistence, how that is actively contributed to by others and of her/our own hand. Recalling a sensation of disappearing, as if on the verge of fainting; rather than the world disappearing she senses herself disappear. Thus introduces the metaphor of nonexistence and discovers/exposes the many ways it is enacted. In those days I was trying to disappear and to appear, trying to be safe and to be someone, and those agendas were often at odds with each other. Because of the meandering style, it's not easy to recall which particular vignette or essay has the most impact, however I note that I've highlighted 107 passages, her words provoke, recollect, igniting the reader's memory and own experience. She struggles writing poetry as a young woman, not doing it well, but ferociously, unaware of what or why she was resisting, often resulting in a murky, incoherent, erratic defiance, something she observes today, as young women around her fight the same battles. The fight wasn't just to survive bodily, though that could be intense enough, but to survive as a person possessed of rights, including the right to participation and dignity and a voice. More than survive, then: to live. And though we all know we learn from our own experiences, there is something reassuring in reading or hearing of those who've trod a similar path; she expresses a desire that the young women coming after her might skip some of the old obstacles, that some of her writing exists to that end, at least by naming those obstacles. Discussing harassment and violence towards women, particularly young women, she ponders how and what she is able to do differently being an older woman, compared to how she reacted and behaved in youth. So much of what makes young women good targets is self-doubt and self-effacement. Observing how we strengthen our purpose over time, gaining orientation and clarity, she recognises something like ripeness and calm flowing in, as the urgency and naiveté of youth ebb. I think of this her book The Faraway Nearby where she revisits childhood and a difficult mother, unrecognisable in the woman she then tends, neither of them who they once were, there is no need to hang on to the earlier version. Ripeness was a metaphor here too, one she desired to observe mature fully, she left a pile of apricots picked from the trees on the floor of a room, like an art installation, left to mature, rot, transform. In the collection she looks back at her own evolution as a writer, and recalls for example the conversation that provoked the essay 'Men Explain Things to Me' that went on to become that new word that has now become mainstream 'mansplaining'. She rereads photocopies of letters in handwriting that is no longer her own and meets a person who was her, but no longer exists, who didn't know how to speak. The young writer I met there didn't know how to speak from the heart, though I could be affectionate...She was speaking in various voices because she didn't yet know what voice was hers, or rather she had not yet made one. Furnishing her mind with readings, they become part of the equipment of imagination, her set of tools for understanding the world, creating patterns, learning enough to "trace paths though the forests of books, learn landmarks and lineages." She celebrates the pleasure of meeting new voices, ideas and possibilities that help make the world more coherent in some way, extending or filling in the map of one's universe, grateful for their ability to bring beauty, find pattern and meaning, creating pure joy. Discussing patterns of how women were portrayed in novels by men she read in the past, she becomes aware of relating to the part of the male protagonist, where 'women devoured to the bone are praised; often those insistent on their own desires needs are reviled or rebuked for taking up space, making noise. You are punished unless you punish yourself into nonexistence.' It was Nella Larsen, author of Quicksand and Passing who said: “Authors do not supply imaginations, they expect their readers to have their own, and to use it.” and Rebecca Solnit carries that thought further and observes something astonishing about reading: about that suspension of your own time and place to travel into others'. It's a way of disappearing from where you are...a world arises in your head that you have built at the author's behest, and when you're present in that world you're absent from you own...It's the reader who brings the book to life. She finds research exciting and piecing together a nonfiction narrative like craft and medicine combined, a combination of creativity and healing. Research is often portrayed as dreary and diligent, but for those with a taste for this detective work there's the thrill of the chase - of hunting data, flushing obscure things out of hiding, of finding fragments that assemble into a picture. Even if some of this is familiar from previous works, it is the reworking of the landscape of her mind, the rearranging of those experiences, interviews, a more mature awareness and wakefulness that makes her work so readable, engaging and accessible and relevant to what is happening in the fast changing world we inhabit. Nonfiction is at its best an act of putting the world back together - or tearing some piece of it apart to find what's hidden beneath the assumptions or conventions...recognizing the patterns that begin to arise as the fragments begin to assemble. Highly Recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Rebecca Solnit's writing has greatly informed my role in, and identification with, feminism (especially as a cis-gendered, straight, white man) and the stories in this book contain some of the best lessons I've learned from her to-date. For men who are doing the work of learning from women—working to understand their experience, working to question their own role in the challenges that women face, worldwide—this is a critically important book to read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    A memoir of sorts, but as always with Solnit, it conforms to a genre only in so far as she feels like that's useful. "I am not a proper memoir writer in that I cannot reconstruct a convincing version of any of our conversations", she says at one point, and what reference is made to anything before she left home is pretty oblique, though the implications are clear enough all the same – "I'm uninterested in the brutalities of childhood in part because that species has been so dwelt upon while some A memoir of sorts, but as always with Solnit, it conforms to a genre only in so far as she feels like that's useful. "I am not a proper memoir writer in that I cannot reconstruct a convincing version of any of our conversations", she says at one point, and what reference is made to anything before she left home is pretty oblique, though the implications are clear enough all the same – "I'm uninterested in the brutalities of childhood in part because that species has been so dwelt upon while some of the brutalities that come after have not." In large part it is the story precisely of how she came to write the books that she did, a biography of her poetics or her voice more than her self, but which necessarily addresses the self too simply because every voice must come from somewhere, because the journalism teachers who wanted clipped faux-objectivity and the English professor who considered Hemingway the zenith of English style were wrong, and must be shown to be wrong: "I believe in the irreducible and in invocation and evocation, and I am fond of sentences less like superhighways than winding paths". Which she crafts so very well. It's the height of cliche to say that someone writes like a dream, but in Solnit's case it's true in very precise ways: as in a dream, there are areas of evocative mistiness, but others of pin-sharp clarity, and the transitions between the two which you'd think might feel juddering instead happen so smoothly you barely notice that the corridor from your old school is now in a cruise liner on the Moon, or that a description of the first room where Solnit lived independently has flipped, by way of the history of her writing desk, into a disquisition on the weight and the ubiquity of gendered violence, and the even wider erasure with which it's in symbiosis. This has been the recurrent topic of Solnit's recent work, and the one which has made her famous at a whole different level since the publication of Men Explain Things To Me; it's also, she explains here, the one topic she's written about which she never consciously set out to make one of her themes. And isn't there a horrible irony in the way it's forced itself on her like that? One strand of Recollections sees Solnit go back through her previous work, adding in the details not just about how they came to be written, or their legacy, but about the stuff she left out at the time – like the fear of what might happen to a lone woman walking, her own bad experiences in that area, which were a far more marginal presence in her books on walking and on getting lost. Here too you'll find the artist whose reputation she did much to salvage, and who repaid her with sexual harassment; the editors and publicists who sabotaged her either deliberately or simply because they couldn't be arsed not to. Some names are named; given the account of the bullshit lawsuit by one particularly choice specimen, I suspect she's sailed as close to the wind on that as she dared, and that this is a fair bit closer than most would. Of course, legally it helps that some of the culprits are dead now, as in the section monstering the Beats; I especially loved her observation that even Homer, hardly Mr Woke, gives the static women in the Odyssey far more interiority and agency than Kerouac cared to in On The Road. Not that that's the whole book. It's also a love letter to San Francisco, at least as it was, alongside a recognition of her own small and unwitting part in its gentrification, having once been the first white face in a neighbourhood where her building supervisor was a black man who remembered Bonnie & Clyde hiding out with his sharecropper family. An attempt to capture the flat where she spent much of her life – and for all that I would never watch Through The Keyhole, and find conversations about home improvement make me want to eat my own face, there is something delightful about a writer who can convey these things just telling you about their old home. She talks about how books are like stars, records of fires burning long ago; about how the growth of the human skull, which must set but must not set too soon, is the perfect metaphor for the growth of humans in general. About how the straight male dream of impenetrability would be blind and fatal were it ever realised in full; about how the present becomes past like the colours shading into each other in the evening sky; about the books one reads more to take up residency than to get to the end. This is the sort of stuff that first got me into Solnit, with her Field Guide To Getting Lost, and there's a part of me (and, she's said elsewhere, of her) that would love her to be able to get back to it – not least because that would mean we were in a better world where there was no longer such an urgent need for the angry dissection of the endless tide of pricks. Towards the end she talks about the writers who are less remembered and read because they changed the culture, were assimilated into the compost of the collective way of seeing, which feels almost like she's taking stock of her legacy, though I hope there's plenty more to come, that she's still writing once the wars are won. And if not, well, at least she can already say "I wanted to be pretty much what I eventually became". (Netgalley ARC)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chantale Onesi-Gonzalez

    The focus that it takes to write a compelling memoir is fascinating and Rebecca Solnit has not disappointed with her, "Recollections of My Nonexistence". Beginning with snippets from her childhood in the Bay Area and returning to that time throughout the work, Solnit paints a picture of San Francisco through the eyes of a female author, struggling for recognition during the slow gentrification of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. A large part of the work deals with the fear that women face simply walking The focus that it takes to write a compelling memoir is fascinating and Rebecca Solnit has not disappointed with her, "Recollections of My Nonexistence". Beginning with snippets from her childhood in the Bay Area and returning to that time throughout the work, Solnit paints a picture of San Francisco through the eyes of a female author, struggling for recognition during the slow gentrification of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. A large part of the work deals with the fear that women face simply walking down the street, but more so on their own in metropolitan places in America. This fear can carry over into the rural and suburban areas of the country just as easily, but there is something to be said for the distinct levels of anxiety that come along with being a solo, woman dweller in an urban area. This feeling of fear is not unique to living in America, as women all over the world deal with fear of place on a daily basis, but Solnit eloquently shows the depths of which this fear manifests in her own daily life, from the perspective of a middle-aged American woman. But it isn't all about fear. Solnit crafts a lovely history of her writing and the challenges she faced in the early days of learning to be a journalist and eventually moving over to the non-fiction (and later creative non-fiction) areas of composition. She weaves through her research on her early works and shows us the unique difficulties she faced to be taken seriously and to feel like she was on the right path. As she writes at the desk a friend gifted her after Solnit helped her release herself from a bad (to say the least) relationship, she allows her anxieties to inform her work in a way that is ever-engaging. Memoirs are so often rollercoaster rides of semi-good writing, but with this work, the prose often takes over in a way that transports you directly into the room where Solnit is writing. It allows the reader to come along for the journey, rather than to simply watch it unfold.  Overall, this memoir is well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in San Francisco history, memoirs of artists and/or authors, feminist scholars, or anyone that enjoys reading about the history of place through the lens of an individual lived life. I suppose that, in the end, is what a memoir should be and Solnit delivers fully with this work.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gizem-in-Wonderland

    “To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in innumerable ways or to flee it or the knowledge of it, or all these things at once.” Rebecca Solnit is one of the most brilliant authors of feminist literature and women’s nonfiction in general. I absolutely love her penmanship, her eloquence, the way she uses the language so elegantly and uniquely to express herself on such ideas as freedom of movement for women, violence, misogyny and gender equality. This is my second book of the author “To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in innumerable ways or to flee it or the knowledge of it, or all these things at once.” Rebecca Solnit is one of the most brilliant authors of feminist literature and women’s nonfiction in general. I absolutely love her penmanship, her eloquence, the way she uses the language so elegantly and uniquely to express herself on such ideas as freedom of movement for women, violence, misogyny and gender equality. This is my second book of the author and I need to repeat once more with feeling how I loved Men Explain Things to Me. Recollections of My Nonexistence is a more personal account of Solnit’s life, what she’s been through and shaped her ideas over the years she lived on her own deciding what to do with her life. The title of the book comes, as she states later in the book, from the everyday challenge of women to get excelled at being nonexistent by trying to avoid male grasp, eye sight, sneaking away, being inconspicuous, dodging kisses, hugs and touch. “You could be erased a little so that there was less of you, less confidence, less freedom, or your rights could be eroded, your body invaded so that it was less and less yours, you could be rubbed out altogether, and none of those possibilities seemed particularly remote. All the worst things that happened to other women because they were women could happen to you because you were a woman." She tells her life story, talks about the key events that changed her life by stating in each chapter how we lived in a men’s world and how even the language itself is shaped by men; so “If men were everyone, then women were no one.” Furthermore she adds: “It’s not you, it’s patriarchy. That is there’s nothing wrong with you; there’s something wrong with the system that bears down on you and tells you you’re useless, incompetent, untrustworthy, worthless and wrong.” I’m so happy that she found her own voice, her own calling and decided to write.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Schulman

    I received an advanced reader's copy in exchange for an honest review Because I am humanly self-centered, this book made me think about my youth in Aughties Brooklyn and how I thought I knew everything but really didn't know everything. What i really did not know was how much of my life was trying to survive my experience as a young woman, and that this state of being was temporary, and how quickly this time would end, and I would become another thing, a no-longer young woman, a mother, a career I received an advanced reader's copy in exchange for an honest review Because I am humanly self-centered, this book made me think about my youth in Aughties Brooklyn and how I thought I knew everything but really didn't know everything. What i really did not know was how much of my life was trying to survive my experience as a young woman, and that this state of being was temporary, and how quickly this time would end, and I would become another thing, a no-longer young woman, a mother, a career woman, a wife, an NPR listener, and how I would miss the un-understanding of my struggle, without every wanting to go back. This book provides a great way to revist that time and think through all the things I never thought through, without actually having to be in my 20s in the city ever again. And for that, 5 hearty stars. Mwah.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I'm not ready to write the review I'd like to, but excellent and hopeful.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    I was attacked when I was 18 and walking to work by a gang of teenagers I frowned at (they were throwing rocks at parked cars from a bridge). Though I got punched a few times, I was quickly rescued by a couple of passersby who yelled at the kids so that I could slink away, ashamed and terrified. From that moment on, I was frightened--for years--about walking alone. I was so angry at those macho shitheads, and could never tell whether or not the next stranger was a threat. But I am male, and white I was attacked when I was 18 and walking to work by a gang of teenagers I frowned at (they were throwing rocks at parked cars from a bridge). Though I got punched a few times, I was quickly rescued by a couple of passersby who yelled at the kids so that I could slink away, ashamed and terrified. From that moment on, I was frightened--for years--about walking alone. I was so angry at those macho shitheads, and could never tell whether or not the next stranger was a threat. But I am male, and white, and bulky enough not to look like an easy target. I am privileged in a way that women and African-Americans and many others are not. My temporary fear didn't keep me from going to the movies alone, from biking and hiking alone in deserted areas, from not even thinking about the possibility of disaster while taking a solo driving tour across the West. All of this is to say that Rebecca Solnit's memoir describes an early life in which the macho shitheads control her behavior, her voice, her sense of self and safety. That isn't to say that kindness is absent; but that, lurking in all of the places she enjoys, there is always the threat of someone who could attack her--verbally or physically. I cannot imagine and would never like to experience that existence; and I know that most women and many individuals face it daily for their whole lives. Her feminist voice is one that she is rightly proud of achieving, and one that calls out for the demolishing of the patriarchal/misogynist attitude so widespread in America. Easy for me to say, and so hard for her. This book is not as sharp and clear and terse as her essay collections--her "hopscotch" method of approaching stories leaves some details fuzzier than I wish they were. But since that move toward clarity of speech and confidence is what the book is about, I am OK that I still have questions: I know that they will be answered in one of her other books. And I love her emphases on hope and kindness. I still grieve that I never thanked those two people (man and woman) who chased off the gang of kids attacking me with no thought of their own safety. But I will always treasure their kindness. And I have hope (even in the midst of this lockdown, and with the government we are currently experiencing) that there is a trend toward a better world, as issues that Solnit (and many others) speak of are spoken of by more and more people. You should read her.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Misha

    Quotations from the advanced reader copy: “Becoming a writer formalizes the task that faces us all in making a life: to become conscious of what overarching stories are and whether or not they serve you, and how to compose versions with room for who you are and what you want.” (130) On the Beats: “Also, most of them despised women, and in this respect they were entirely conventional and of their time and place, the woman-hating American 1950s, whose mainstream literary lions were dubbed a few years Quotations from the advanced reader copy: “Becoming a writer formalizes the task that faces us all in making a life: to become conscious of what overarching stories are and whether or not they serve you, and how to compose versions with room for who you are and what you want.” (130) On the Beats: “Also, most of them despised women, and in this respect they were entirely conventional and of their time and place, the woman-hating American 1950s, whose mainstream literary lions were dubbed a few years back the Midcentury Misogynists.” (159) “The gay men and lesbians around me encouraged me to imagine that gender is whatever you want it to be, and that the rules were breakable, and that the price to pay for breaking them was generally worth it and then some. The men made it clear that what troubled and frustrated me in straight men was not innate to the gender but built into the role. Or as the direct-action group Queer Nation put it in the stickers they scattered around town in the early 1990s, ‘What causes heterosexuality>’ They modeled for me the radical beauty of refusing your assignment, and if they did not have to be what they were supposed to be than neither did I.” (179) “Queer culture made it clear that a life can have as its stable foundation friendships so strong that they are a form of family, that family too can be liberated from the conventional roles of spousal contracts and begetting and blood kinship. It was a bulwark against the widespread, wearing insistence that only the nuclear family supplies love and stability—which sometimes it does, but we all know that sometimes it supplies misery and sabotage.” (186) “My life has spanned a revolution against the old authoritarianisms. In response to the late 1950s and early 1960s crisis of nuclear fallout, ordinary people questioned the authority of the scientists in service of the military and the chemical companies, and then the nascent environmental movement asked broader questions about anthropocentrism, capitalism, consumerism, and ideas of progress and the domination of nature. Racial justice movements questioned the centrality of whiteness, gay and lesbian liberation movements questions the centrality of heterosexuality, and feminism questioned patriarchy (and when we were lucky, these boulevards intersected). Though they were more than questions; they were demands for change and for the redistribution of power and values. Change is the measure of time, and these movements were often regarded as having failed to realize short-term or specific goals, but in the long term they often changed the very premises by which decisions were made and facts were interpreted, and how people imagined themselves, each other, their possibilities, their rights, and society. And who decided, who interpreted, what was visible and audible, whose voice and vision mattered.” (222-223) “Also it seems safe to say I’m damaged and a member of a society that damages us all and damages women in particular ways.” (235)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Recollections of My Nonexistence is very much what it sounds like. An intimate look at Solnit’s role in the world as a woman, it is largely a story of the oppression—the invisibility—of women, and it is told with such grace and delicacy, but also with great dignity and strength. Including her development as a feminist writer in 1980’s San Francisco, the cultures that impacted her there, the origins of a handful of the books she’s authored, and the origin of the desk at which she wrote many of th Recollections of My Nonexistence is very much what it sounds like. An intimate look at Solnit’s role in the world as a woman, it is largely a story of the oppression—the invisibility—of women, and it is told with such grace and delicacy, but also with great dignity and strength. Including her development as a feminist writer in 1980’s San Francisco, the cultures that impacted her there, the origins of a handful of the books she’s authored, and the origin of the desk at which she wrote many of them, this memoir—bursting with intellect and insight—could only have come from the epitome of ferocity that is Rebecca Solnit.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    Phenomenal! Every single sentence is exquisite.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter Rock

    I really admire Solnit's writing, erudition, fearlessness, attitude. Over the years I've read many of her books (favorites: THE FARAWAY NEARBY, A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST, RIVER OF SHADOWS). She really is (though she's generous about those who've helped her) a self-taught searcher, weird auto-didact; sometimes her ferocity feels a little defensive, but that too expresses its own necessity, borne out of the past. So after reading her work that is not explicitly about her, it was really fascina I really admire Solnit's writing, erudition, fearlessness, attitude. Over the years I've read many of her books (favorites: THE FARAWAY NEARBY, A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST, RIVER OF SHADOWS). She really is (though she's generous about those who've helped her) a self-taught searcher, weird auto-didact; sometimes her ferocity feels a little defensive, but that too expresses its own necessity, borne out of the past. So after reading her work that is not explicitly about her, it was really fascinating to read this story, which accounted for her own personal history (though it's unlike most memoirs, in that its internalized abstractions and reflections are rarely about other people, but more often how the geographical becomes personal? The descriptions of her apartment on Lyon Street! Wow.). I think this book would be wonderful for anyone to read, but I suspect that those who know her other work will find context and perspective, here. I read it in two days. “Writing is often treated as the making of things, one piece at a time, but you write from who you are and what you care about and what true voice is yours and from leaving all the false voices and wrong notes behind, and so underneath the task of writing a particular piece is the general one of making a self who can make the work you are meant to make.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I am grateful and awed by Solnit's powerful advocacy, by her courage and skill at putting words to experiences many of us have trouble facing and articulating. She also writes joyfully and memorably about people and art and her first home. And she writes her own enchanting account of what makes reading so wondrous even as she is pointing out the limitations of living only in books, "I swam through oceans and rivers of worlds and their incantatory power. In fairy tales naming something gives you I am grateful and awed by Solnit's powerful advocacy, by her courage and skill at putting words to experiences many of us have trouble facing and articulating. She also writes joyfully and memorably about people and art and her first home. And she writes her own enchanting account of what makes reading so wondrous even as she is pointing out the limitations of living only in books, "I swam through oceans and rivers of worlds and their incantatory power. In fairy tales naming something gives you power over it; a spell is some words you say that makes things happens. These are just concentrated versions of how words make that words and take us into its heart, how a metaphor opens up a new possibility, a simile builds a bridge" (115). I look forward to re-reading this one.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Toward the end of her memoir, Rebecca Solnit writes: "..there are two ways of making contributions that matter. One is to make work that stays visible before people's eyes; the other is to make work that is so deeply absorbed that it ceases to be what people see and becomes how they see. It is no longer in front of them; it's inside them." Rebecca Solnit is one of those writers for me. Reading her words sometimes articulates things I've thought but never examined; felt but never put into words. A Toward the end of her memoir, Rebecca Solnit writes: "..there are two ways of making contributions that matter. One is to make work that stays visible before people's eyes; the other is to make work that is so deeply absorbed that it ceases to be what people see and becomes how they see. It is no longer in front of them; it's inside them." Rebecca Solnit is one of those writers for me. Reading her words sometimes articulates things I've thought but never examined; felt but never put into words. And other times, they have opened up a new way of thinking or seeing that becomes a part of me. This will definitely be a book I return to.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yukari Watanabe/渡辺由佳里

    Only Solnit could write a non linear memoir like this. We grew up in very different places but I totally understood the feeling of "nonexistence". My Japanese review: https://youshofanclub.com/2020/06/07/... Only Solnit could write a non linear memoir like this. We grew up in very different places but I totally understood the feeling of "nonexistence". My Japanese review: https://youshofanclub.com/2020/06/07/...

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Glenn Dixon

    I bailed at 25%: Solnit starts off with a description of her neighborhood that is filled with specifics yet feels very generic. She hits her stride when she hits her politics. The clarity of her protest against male street violence and intimidation is electrifying. What I can't get past is her wasteful, redundant style. This is a short book, only 240 pages, but she made her wordcount on a sentence-by-sentence basis, larding layers of substance with the untrimmed fat of list after list of too-clo I bailed at 25%: Solnit starts off with a description of her neighborhood that is filled with specifics yet feels very generic. She hits her stride when she hits her politics. The clarity of her protest against male street violence and intimidation is electrifying. What I can't get past is her wasteful, redundant style. This is a short book, only 240 pages, but she made her wordcount on a sentence-by-sentence basis, larding layers of substance with the untrimmed fat of list after list of too-closely-related adjectives and verbs and verb phrases and...you see the problem. Solnit boasts of the millions of words she’s written. It’s no mystery how she goosed her stats. It became a burden just to see the book on the nightstand. Enough. // The problem, of course, is that being so recursive and prolific (and underedited) is what has enabled her to sustain a career. In my dream world, she'd be paid a lot more to write a lot less.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Pickens

    Very inspiring story of the author's time spent in San Francisco when she was just beginning her career. This was during the early gentrification of Black neighborhoods, and reminds me of the years I spent in Austin TX watching it grow from a liberal college town into a high-tech center. I enjoy reading all of Rebecca Solnit's works because of her intelligent and feminist mentality.

  30. 5 out of 5

    June

    Rebecca Solnit is a light in the darkness. This is a moving look back at formative experiences from her past which set her on course for the writer and activist she has become. In another author's hands, this kind of work might be egocentric or preachy, but Solnit focuses on the other people, places, and circumstances that inspired her and informed her path. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a digital ARC.

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