“Shape as a preoccupation makes sense in a book about storytelling. Shapes and lines create order out of chaos, or at least highlight possible orderly paths through it. Solnit’s personal “story of sorts” brings together episodes from a difficult year in her life, one that included a breakup, a brush with her own mortality, and her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s. . .
“Some of her most interesting ideas are born of wild mash-ups. In ‘The Faraway Nearby,’ for instance, after describing vanitas paintings, which portray emblems like bubbles or clocks to suggest ‘the futility of human cravings, aspirations and attachments in the face of the transience of all things,’ she leaps to the image of her breast on a mammogram: such digital X-rays are modern-day vanitas pictures, she writes, ‘reminders of your frailty and the fleetingness of all things, particularly your own flesh, a bubble sustained by breath.’”
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