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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 19/100: Lonely by Emily White

Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude - Emily White

Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #5: A book that starts with the same first letter as your name

This book brought back so many memories of my time living alone -- I related a lot to the solitude White describes as she journals at her kitchen table, eats meals alone, forces herself to socialize and then finds herself uncomfortable when she does.

I read this book for the "memoir" aspect of it and was a lot less interested in the loneliness research -- had I known how much of the book would be an aggregation of other people's experiences of loneliness as well as what the experts say, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. It's not the feeling of being lonely that interests me as much as one person's experience of it.

At first, it was hard for me to see the distinction White was drawing between the states of depression, loneliness and introversion. To me, a lot of the behaviors and feelings she described seemed to spring forth from introversion, but I guess the distinction is in whether you are enjoying your time alone or not. The findings about loneliness and health decline were certainly sobering, and I agree with White that it's an issue we as a culture should be more aware of. I was also interested in the stigma surrounding loneliness, and the way White found it easier to come out as gay than to come out as chronically lonely. This made me reflect more upon the loneliest times in my own life, and I realized that I was loathe to speak of the state with anyone except my closest friends as well. The fact that I never questioned not talking about it I think drives home how we've accepted the stigma around it as a culture -- probably because so many people hear "lonely" and translate it as "needy."

The thing is, this may not be inaccurate. The research seems to show that chronically lonely people simply NEED more from other people than the general population does; White describes it as similar to the way a diabetic needs more insulin or a person with depression needs more serotonin. And I think in a culture that values independence and is becoming increasingly disconnected, this need can feel especially shameful and embarrassing.

Although I would have liked more memoir, less academia, White is a good writer with something worthwhile to say. It's good that this book exists to tell those who most need it that they are not, in fact, alone.