One summer, Rebecca Solnit was bequeathed three boxes of ripening apricots, which lay, mountainous, on her bedroom floor – a windfall, a riddle, an emergency to be dealt with. The fruit came from a neglected tree that her mother, gradually succumbing to memory loss, could no longer tend to.
Gifts come in many guises. From this unexpected inheritance came stories spun like those of Scheherazade, who used her gifts as a storyteller to change her fate and her listener's heart. As she looks back on the year of apricots and emergencies, Solnit weaves her own story into fairytales and the lives of others – the Marquis de Sade, Mary Shelley and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. She tells of unexpected invitations and adventures, from a library of water in Iceland to the depths of the Grand Canyon. She tells of doctors and explorers, monsters and moths. She tells of warmth and coldness, of making art and re-making the self.
And she explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination.
At a time when many of us are living in isolated confinement, here is a deeply moving account of why we create and how inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places.
Read it? Loved it? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #HayBookoftheMonth.
Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist, with a diverse bibliography ranging from gender and cultural studies to travel writing, film biography and politics. A regular contributor to magazines and newspapers such as Harper’s and the Guardian, Solnit’s writing career began in the late 1980s and was intrinsically connected to her human rights activism. She has continued to be heavily involved in a number of causes, from women’s rights to climate change protests, and these themes frequently inform her writing. Her most notable works include River of Shadows, about the early film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge and the technological transformation of the American West, A Paradise Built in Hell, concerning the communities that arise in the aftermath of natural disasters, and Men Explain Things to Me, a series of feminist essays credited with inspiring the term ‘mansplaining’. Her most recent book is Whose Story is This? which focuses on the multiplicity of narratives in modern society.
Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we've loved and think holds added resonance today. While many recommendations celebrate the new, this is a chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old – that reaches through time to touch the present.
Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HayBookoftheMonth and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.
Over on Hay Player, a special playlist of talks to view online offer additional perspectives on the books from some of the greatest writers and thinkers around the world.
If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.