An extraordinary life deserves a memoir. Perhaps the author was raised in dire poverty or in a cult. Perhaps they experienced great success as an athlete, actress, politician, or musician. Perhaps they had an epiphany in the mountains, or survived a rare disease. If not, then they might justify the writing of a memoir by connecting their life to something of public importance. Maybe they lived through a war or a natural disaster. Or maybe their personal history helps tell the story of what it’s like to belong to a particular race, religion, or nationality.
Lost & Found, Kathryn Schulz’s new memoir, takes none of these approaches. It is instead about everyday occurrences. A woman loses her father when he is old and sick. A woman falls in love; she gets married. A woman moves into a new home and prepares for the birth of her child.
Schulz, it must be said, is herself extraordinary. She’s won a Pulitzer Prize! But this is not a memoir about her literary career. Her father’s family died in Auschwitz. But this is not a memoir about the Holocaust. She is married to a woman, but this is not a memoir about her sexual identity. This is a memoir focused not on difference, but on similarity. Our sorrows and joys, our griefs and blisses, experiences not unique but shared: these things, too, are worthy of being written about.
There are many things we can lose—wallets, scarves, phone numbers, a pregnancy, a mind—and many things we can find—meteorites in a field, a rare book in a thrift shop, a vocation. What do these acts of disappearance and discovery, these “enormous and awkward” categories that “encompass, without distinction, the trivial and the consequential,” have in common? What can acquisition and attrition tell us about being human?
As its title implies, these are the central questions of Lost & Found. Schulz answers them across disciplines, incorporating ideas from philosophy and psychology, literature and economics. Her sources are varied: Elizabeth Bishop, Socrates, and Dante; the finding of U-boats via mathematical equations; an archeological dig. Beyond these sources, she makes her own observations: “Losing things makes us feel lousy about ourselves.” It also makes us feel small, “instructing us by correcting our sense of scale,” revealing a world “enormous, complex, and mysterious.” As for finding, Schulz argues that it has “intrinsic value,” regardless of what is discovered. When our finds are especially extraordinary—a soulmate, for instance—we invoke destiny: “Confronted by a surprising find, we also feel ourselves confronted by the governing forces of the universe.”