Rebecca Solnit's book of essays, Call Them by Their True Names, left me feeling depressed. It's not that Solnit is a depressing writer — in fact, the book ends on a series of hopeful grace notes. And it's not even that Solnit directs her considerable intelligence toward the very real problems of America in 2018 — the harassment and abuse of women, the president's aliterate war on rationality, the battle lines of power being drawn in our gentrifying cities.
No, for me the issue is that Solnit is such a brilliant writer, and that she writes with such surety, that as soon as I set Names aside and open my Twitter feed, the world feels murky and grey in comparison. Arguments are less sharp, reality seems confusing in its moral complications. It's like going from a high-definition television to a grainy black-and-white set with a clothes-hanger antenna.
We had plenty to discuss at last night's Reading Through It Book Club. Solnit seems to only write about the most pressing issues of our time, and the essays in Names are so immediate that the ink on the pages practically feels wet. She finds the connections between all the fault lines in our culture, finding the surprising links between #MeToo and Trump's election, gentrification and police shootings.
I mean, this is pretty convincing:
Trump is patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation.
"Patriarchy unbuttoned" is a pretty great turn of phrase for the current moment, with Kavanaugh bellowing and Lindsay Graham shrieking and basement warriors everywhere whining about men's rights. It's two words that distill everything, a pure display of Solnit's power.
Last night's book club ended with a discussion of Solnit's wrenching account of gentrification in San Francisco and how it relates to Seattle. The next few months will see candidates from across the political spectrum running for seven neighborhood seats on Seattle's City Council. Those campaigns are likely to incite a volatile conversation about what we want the city to be, and what our responsibility is to each other. I have a sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, Seattle will not live up to Solnit's exacting moral standards.