The sui generis author of Men Explain Things to Me describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco in an atmosphere of gender violence and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas.
Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s most personal memoir to date, is a lyrical love letter to girls, to young women and their dreams. It is also a prayer, a manifesto of solidarity to the women those girls became or will become, a song to sing in choir their regrets. It is, also, a poetic warning cry to what awaits if they are to insist on having a voice and the power to decide over their lives ... historical movements in one direction or another, seen from the point of view of the outsider turned insider, that provide the third element making this a great book, the fascinating what of the book, the most heartbreaking moments, the most staggering truths about what it means to be a have-not in the land of the privileged ... Recollections of My Nonexistence is, evenly, from beginning to end, as deliciously readable as Men Explain Thing to Me and The Faraway Nearby, Solnit’s previous critically acclaimed bestsellers, but here it is this lyrical—but also clear, well-researched, impactful—articulation of womanhood that makes it required, urgent, reading for women of all ages, and for men, all men, even more so.
For Solnit fans, her new memoir is a glimpse of all that was 'taking form out of sight,' providing a key to understanding much of her work to date. Yet simply as a coming-of-age narrative, it also has much to offer someone new to her writing ... an un-self-centered book that often reverses the figure-ground relationship, portraying the emergence of a writer and her voice from a particular cultural moment and set of fortuitous influences ... The memoir is a tour through the influences that shaped Solnit’s writerly voice ... Solnit typically deploys history in the service of the present, and her memoir is no exception. Recollections of My Nonexistence often reads as a letter to young activists and women writers — less 'back in my day' and more 'I fought, and am fighting, the same battles you are.' At the same time that she describes her forays into her past, she invites us to connect pieces of her story to our own, as a measure of how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go ... The stochastic nature of social change has been one of Solnit’s guiding concerns, and here it’s transposed to a personal register: How does a person change? We rarely know what something means when it happens to us. We may be finding out for the rest of our lives.
Anyone hoping that this book, which is billed as a memoir, will offer a more intimate glimpse of the writer, might be disappointed in that regard; Solnit does not go in for soul-baring, and even in this personal history she keeps her gaze focused outward, on what her particular encounters can tell us about the prevailing culture of publishing, or the art world, or the environmental movement, or the city at the time ... at times Recollections does cover ground traversed in previous essay collections, most obviously as it catches up with her present work. But it is a rare writer who has both the intellectual heft and the authority of frontline experience to tackle the most urgent issues of our time. One of the reasons she has won so many admirers is the sense that she is driven not by anger but by compassion and the desire to offer encouragement ... That voice of hope is more essential now than ever, and this memoir is a valuable glimpse into the grit and courage that enabled her to keep telling sidelined stories when the forces opposing her seemed monolithic.