This isn’t your grandparents’ tour of lighthouses. No tea cozies and dried flower arrangements here; no mooning over the saccharine details of the sea’s noble histories. Jazmina Barrera’s slim memoir, On Lighthouses—couched inauspiciously as a guide to lighthouses—is properly unhinged. Dodging linearity, subverting convention, eluding particularity, it awes. With these micro-histories of six lighthouses—silent pillars of the coast—Barrera conjures a melancholic ode to the unreachable, quintessential beauty of solitude. You can’t look away.
On Lighthouses hypnotizes in all the ways a book ought to, calling to mind the very nature of books. Meek and pale, washed ashore of life’s rapid tides, the reader and her book are already strange figures in our world, lonely spirts drifting for hours alone, outside of time and place. In this sense—in Barerra’s sense—a book is a lighthouse and its reader the sunken-eyed keeper haunting its hollow passages, lighting its searchlight night after night. And we’ve only just stuck our toe in.