Dodging linearity, subverting convention, eluding particularity, it awes. With these micro-histories of six lighthouses—silent pillars of the coast—Barrera conjures a melancholic ode to the unreachable, quintessential beauty of solitude. You can’t look away. On Lighthouses hypnotizes in all the ways a book ought to, calling to mind the very nature of books ... Like any lighthouse, grounded and yet always at sea, On Lighthouses delights in paradox—the pull between duty and desire, ennui and mania, contentment and fear. The bibliography runs pages long, a cluttered bricolage of research. Barrera’s 'study' of lighthouses is frenetic while her descriptions of them ring immaculately laconic. She is, in other words, definitively undefinitive ... Barrera has given every lonely soul and reader a lighthouse all her own—a fixed point, in days of solitude—a mental anchor to the earth as we drift aimlessly at sea.
Barrera's obsession is contagious. Her graceful sentences ensnare tidbits of history and tantalizing glimpses of her own life, accompanied by delicate sketches of lighthouses she's visited, making this book a refuge from everyday life, a place of enchantment and safety.
A slim, idiosyncratic history of these structures and their appearances in literature—from Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father and grandfather engineered them, to Virginia Woolf, to Ray Bradbury—the book allows the reader flashes of Barrera’s emotional life amid the accumulated detail ... universality is key to the charm of Barrera’s subject. She’s aware of the lurking dangers of sentimentality, and of how unoriginal her lighthouse obsession is. It’s oddly cheering to know, while you fantasize about escaping everybody else, that most all of them are thinking the very same thing.
... six poignant personal essays ... what comes through is a dark and often obsessive meditation on what it feels like to squirrel yourself away from the world and embrace isolation in the name of pursuing a passion ... Though slight in stature, On Lighthouses is perhaps best read in more than one sitting. Given Barrera’s brooding and all the skipping about from topic to topic, too much in one dose might seem like overload. But for readers lured in by the striking cover and looking for lighthouse trivia, there’s plenty of that to go around.
This free-associative style makes for pleasant reading, but doesn’t often lead the essays to satisfying conclusions. Barrera writes that 'there are collections that will always be incomplete,' an observation that seems all too apt for this intriguing but aimless work.
Each story includes a wide array of topics in lighthouse culture, including literature, history, science, art, music, and the daily, brutal lives of the isolated keepers and their families ... These subtle, reflective observations offer delightful insights into the lighthouse mystique.