I received Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me a couple of years ago as a birthday gift, and it sat on my shelf for a long time before I finally picked it up to read this fall. It's such a small book that, at first, I assumed it wouldn't have a lot of substance. I didn't know anything about Rebecca Solnit (though I'd heard her name several times in passing), and after two back-to-back nonfiction workshops (and struggles with my own work) I was reluctant to crack open another essay collection. After reading through all of Men Explain Things to Me in one sitting however (and going back through a second time to annotate each essay), I can confidently say that I was wrong to ever hesitate.
Men Explain Things to Me is a collection of essays that have all been previously published in one form or another in the Financial Times, Zyzzva Magazine, and at TomDispatch. Each piece explores an aspect of women's issues with several overlapping themes: marriage inequality, violence against women, global injustice, the state of feminism, and the erasure of women throughout history. The essays are meticulously researched and deftly written, all of the concepts and themes seamlessly interwoven. I read "The Longest War" twice to myself and then once aloud to my partner, not only because the piece was so powerful in its message, but also because the essay articulated so much of what's been left unsaid in our culture over the past several years—about masculinity's inherent tie to violence, about the level of entitlement necessary to inflict suffering and even death on fellow humans, about the fact that Elliot Rodger and the Dylann Roof and the Robert Lewis Dear have never been isolated events. I highly recommend reading Men Explain Things to Me and then reading it again. You should also check out Solnit's latest essay/cultural criticism "The Case of The Missing Perpetrator."
The Faraway Nearby is much harder for me to explain. The connected essay collection blends memoir, literary criticism, and researched nonfiction to form a beautiful, labyrinth-like text. Each piece winds and meanders through a metaphorically connected narrative—from the apricots Solnit gathers during her mother's battle with Alzheimer's, to the tales told in One Thousand and One Nights, to Mary Shelley's wandering monster in Frankenstein, to Che Guevara's work with a leper colony. The connections are often concrete but, at other points, are rather nebulous, and from time to time I did found myself getting a little lost in the text. This is a book I would definitely read again in hopes of gaining an even deeper understanding of Solnit's metaphors and themes.