Book Review: Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

The back of the book blurb says:

At a time when political, environmental and social gloom can seem overpowering, this remarkable work offers a lucid, affirmative and well-argued case for hope.

I’m already sold. Politics – mental. Check! Environmental predictions – dire. Check! Social issues – overwhelming. Triple check! I need this book right now. And I absolutely loved it. I’ve struggled to get this review written because I have felt like I’m not capable of conveying how brilliant it is. It’s made me feel hopeful about the future and like I can make a difference to the world. That’s some achievement for a book that’s only 142 pages long.

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That brew is perfect. Anyone who might make me a cup of tea in the future, please take note. 

I read most of Hope In The Dark during the week when we had actual white supremacist Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. I still can’t see, hear, or read that without doing a huge internal WTF? They are fracking a few miles away from my house. People in positions of power are denying climate change. We are exiting the EU. And the Conservatives are in power a-frigging-gain. It’s ALL TOO MUCH. and that’s not even the half of it.

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Rebecca Solnit. Picture from https://umpsychogeography.wordpress.com/the-writer-as-walker/rebecca-solnit/

Hope In The Dark is a collection of 21 short essays. It was was written in 2004 in the wake of the second election of President Bush. Rebecca Solnit is American and so American politics are important to the book, but it covers global issues. The copy I read is a 2016 update and has a new foreward, a new afterward, and two new essays concerning 2009 and 2014. It falls cliffhangingly short of a Donald Trump presidency!

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The dark in the title of the book is the future. The dark is the unknown. It’s not that its dark and terrible, it’s just unknown. As she points out in the book, in the 1980s we couldn’t have predicted the internet in 20 years time, for example. We never know the future and so we can’t predict how our efforts will affect it. We should do things we believe are right, we should have hope that they can affect the future positively because they might, and probably will. In Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit gives us examples of when small acts of activism, that may have felt hopeless to the people involved at the time, have gone on to influence great changes in the world. Hope In The Dark is a call to arms to be more politically active and more engaged. It’s clear about how even small acts can have great effects.

Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what we may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they all matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

 

The right and left of politics both come in for criticism. The right for getting their followers to focus on the wrong problem. i.e. countryside dwellers being most afraid of terrorism and crime even though statistically they are least likely to be affected. The left get it in the neck for focusing singularly on the biggest issues and therefore becoming so full of despair there is inaction. This criticism of the left was really useful to me. I’m good at seeing what the right do wrong already 🙂

Forgive me for not giving the full context of this next quote, but I love the phrasing:

the despairing were deeply attached to their despair, so much so I came to refer to my project as stealing the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left.

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Reading some of Hope In The Dark at Bluedot Festival 

The stories covered are global and I read a lot of Hope learning about world issues from the last 20 years that I either didn’t know anything about, or only had vague knowledge of. I’m deliberately not going into too much detail here, because I want you to go and read it for yourself! I could never do it justice here.

… hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch , feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.

I’ve concentrated so far on the political aspects of Hope In The Dark, but the environmental parts rang true for me as well. I’m concerned about climate change and our global response to it, and it’s heartening to read about some environmental successes around the world. There is a fracking site a few miles from my house and this is a massive concern. Reading about some successful American campaigns against fracking was really encouraging.

It’s always too soon to go home.

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Yes, a fish finger butty. Food of the Gods. 

I badly want to read an update written even more recently with Rebecca Solnit’s take on the Trump presidency. In fact, maybe that exists out there somewhere… *checks internet and wins*. I’m going to see her talk at Manchester Literature Festival in October and I can not wait. Her new book on feminism has just been released – The Mother Of All Questions: Further Feminisms, a follow up to Men Explain Things To Me (my review here. Guess what I LOVED THAT TOO).

Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.

Thank God Rebecca Solnit is a prolific writer because I just want to read everything she’s written. I saw this on Caroline Criado-Perez‘s twitter and I totally agree!

 

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This is the sort of book that I wished I had an extra secret higher level of recommendation to give it. I LOVED it. It’s exactly what you need if you feel despair with current politics, current environmental issues, or social issues (i.e. everyone, surely?!?) Please read it!!!!

We are not who we were not very long ago.

 

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

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