The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 24, 2017

June 24, 1961

Rebecca Solnit (June 24, 1961) prolific writer on cutting edge popular culture: author of, among other books, Wanderlust, A Book of Migrations, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, the NBCC award-winning River of Shadows and A Paradise20 Built In Hell. A contributing editor to Harper’s, she writes regularly for the London Review of Books and the Los Angeles Times.

Solnit also creates that popular culture--her 2014 book Men Explain Things to Me launched the term "mansplaining", and Solnit's position as a cultural icon, according to a recent Elle interview. This lengthy article is the basis of our points below, except that this essay does not mention Solnit's 2016 Christmas present to her friends:

"My "Christmas gift to all of you (and my first cat-video post ever)! It has EVERYTHING for EVERYBODY!" 

The video is about a guy bathing his orange tabby cat:
Guy Rapping About Giving His Cat a Bath Will Fulfill Your Cat Rap Needs for 2016

Our excerpts are from an interview conducted by Keziah Weir.

The title essay of Men Explain Things is based on an encounter Solnit had with an older man at his Aspen house party in 2003; he expounds at great length to her about a recent biography of Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneering stop-motion photographer famous for his image series of a horse galloping—talking over her friend's efforts to tell him that Solnit herself had written the book. "I like incidents of that sort," Solnit writes, "when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that's eaten a cow.".....

..... Men Explain Things... [contains] her trenchant take on FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley, who issued pre-9/11 warnings about Al Qaeda and was ignored by her mostly male colleagues.
The best part of her broader acclaim, Solnit says, is that it affords her more time to write. .... And the book that followed Men Explain Things was quintessential old-school Solnit: The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, a sprawling, 300-plus-page collection of essays about everything from cannibalistic Arctic polar bears to atomic explosions in Japan.....

It was in the early aughts that Solnit started to add overtly political essays to her repertoire, writing predominantly for smaller lefty publications. "I give this to the Bush era," she says, explaining how she wanted to address the "incredible despair around me as the war in Iraq broke out." The specific catalyst came during a banner week in 2003: First, New York University convened a panel that brought together neurologist Oliver Sacks, historian Simon Schama, artist Chuck Close, and Solnit to talk about Eadweard Muybridge, that mansplained subject of her then-upcoming book, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (which would go on to win a Guggenheim Award). Her book Wanderlust was an answer on Jeopardy ("For $1,200, this impulse to travel is the title of Rebecca Solnit's book"). And she met Susan Sontag, at a New York Institute for the Humanities lunch. Afterward, Sontag invited Solnit to her apartment, and over hard-boiled eggs with pepper flakes in the famous critic's kitchen, Sontag asked for Solnit's input on a speech she was writing to honor a figure in Israel's anti-occupation movement. ...

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, [is] her 2004 exploration of a concept that would become synonymous with the campaign of America's first black president— and which Solnit made available for free as an e-book the morning after Donald Trump's election. (It's since been downloaded 31,500-plus times.) "Here, in this book," she writes, "I want to propose a new vision of how change happens; I want to count a few of the victories that get overlooked….I want to start over, with an imagination adequate to the possibilities and the strangeness and the dangers on this earth in this moment." The pointillist essays in Hope in the Dark unpack a dizzying array of sociopolitical movements, showing how we got from the raising of the Berlin Wall to its dismantling in just 31 years; from a tiny group of "original activists" in London's nascent abolitionist crusade in 1785 to its flowering a quarter-century later in the U.S.; from the 1930s extinction of overhunted wolves in Yellowstone National Park to their return in 1995. "We are not who we were not very long ago," she writes.

When I reach Solnit at home in San Francisco the week after the election, she's the one who seems to need an injection of hope. "This is a massive disruption and crisis, and a lot of things could come of it," she says. "The scary thing is, a lot of what comes of it is up to us."

...In her thirties, Solnit tells me, she and her brother were chatting about how much they both liked to run in Golden Gate Park. He ran only on back trails, he told her, so he could avoid seeing any cars. She was shocked—she ran only on the main road, because she was afraid of lurking men. This, to her, is perhaps one of the most profound and unsettling differences between men and women: the former's propensity for violence, often against the latter...."Part of what I've tried to fight in my feminism is these stories that are exculpatory".... "If it's white men, they had mental health issues." Obviously some do, she continues, but the automatic assumption "avoids discussing how most violence, of every kind, is largely perpetrated by men," she says. "Mental illness, whether depression or psychosis, just disinhibits men. They follow patterns that are built into the culture."

..... The Golden Gate Park story stopped me cold, for one, echoing as it does the famous Margaret Atwood line: "Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them."...

Solnit describes her younger self as "a weird, rejected, battered kid." Growing up in a middle-class suburb of San Francisco, she was the sole daughter in a "superviolent, misogynistic" family of four children, she says. Her father, Al, was a county planner with a scathing temper: "One summer evening when I was about nine," she writes in A Field Guide, "my father came home late and found a forgotten glass of chocolate milk gone sour on the kitchen counter. Waste enraged him, and since I was the principal drinker of chocolate milk, he rushed into my room, flicked the light on, and dashed it in my face as I slept." ....

Solnit took the GED at 15 and enrolled the following year at the local College of Marin, where she happened upon a pamphlet about study-abroad programs—which offered her a way to extricate herself from both her family and a "creepy older boyfriend." She landed on Paris, in part because she'd become entranced by Romanesque art, but also because she was toying with becoming a model: She was tall and skinny, and thanks to her mother's job at a talent agency, she'd appeared as an extra in several movies (the best known of which was the Invasion of the Body Snatchers). At age 17, armed with a year of basic French, cash she'd saved from a job at a used-book store, and a semester's worth of tuition that comprised her college fund, Solnit enrolled at the American University in Paris. After a few shoots with small-time photographers, she abandoned the modeling plan: "The men in my family did a lot of body shaming, with my father the leader of the pack. It would've been difficult to be judged constantly." Her love of art stuck, however.

When—after a year and a half of full-time, scholarship-funded study—she returned to California, Solnit transferred to San Francisco State and soon moved into the studio apartment she'd rent for the next quarter century. After graduating in 1981, she enrolled in the journalism master's program at Berkeley while also working at MoMA San Francisco for the then-high wage of $7 an hour.

Although Solnit, as she says, "looked like a punk rocker and still was not the greatest communicator with people I regarded as grown-ups," she was given the task of researching and writing about major works of art for the museum's fiftieth-anniversary catalogue. When she finished at Berkeley at 23, Solnit was hired almost immediately as a full-time critic by Artweek magazine on the strength of her work at MoMA. She was officially a writer.

And we are better for it. This article we excerpt above is from the March 2017 issue of ELLE.  It is titled "The Philosopher Queen: Rebecca Solnit." The link is above; my purpose was not to convey its bigger picture, and you should read it.

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