Thursday, February 03, 2011

Lonely by Emily White

"Conversations with chronically lonely people reveal the paradox attached to the state. The longer it lasts, the less you’re supposed to mention it. The more closely it attaches to your life, the more you’re supposed to pretend it’s not anything you feel."
Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude is a memoir in which author Emily White attempts to understand the chronic loneliness which has plagued her almost her entire life. Boldly stating that loneliness deserves the same attention as other mental illnesses such as depression, she intertwines her own personal story with scientific data and accounts offered by other lonely people on their experiences. 

Lonely is a 2011 release I'd been greatly looking forward to, but I was somehow under the impression that the main focus of the book was memoir. Although White's personal account plays a key role in her ability to understand the struggles of loneliness, as well as being the reason she pursued writing this book at all, it is only one part of what Lonely is about. The book itself has a significant amount of scientific information, and as non-fiction takes me significantly longer to read than memoirs or fiction this was certainly not a quick read. An interesting aspect of Lonely is the insight White offers into the idea that loneliness is actually becoming an increasing issue, as well as the possible reasons for that.
Discussing social media and the internet, she writes:
"Perhaps I was being insufficiently modern, but I never felt as though I could cure my loneliness through technology. My newspaper was just a part of my apartment, less comforting than my fridge, less familiar than my toaster, and I object to the idea that I should have somehow reached out in my loneliness and tried to turn it into a friend."
Continuing to delve into the topic, she states: 
"At a time when we’re being told that our needs are being met and that sociability is easy to achieve, we need to recognize a more complex truth. This truth involves us being alone more, confiding less, and getting caught up in the wheel of active socializing. Loneliness today is being egged on and aggravated by culture. It’s probably time we saw this, and stopped portraying the state as something that’s somehow the lonely person’s fault."
These excerpts clearly indicate the clear case that White makes for loneliness, and it is impossible to read Lonely and not understand how little is known about chronic loneliness, and also how little is being done to remedy that. The most powerful portion of Lonely though, is White's personal testament of her experiences and struggles with the disease, as she found herself increasingly shy and antisocial, even as her loneliness became worse. White's biggest strength lies not with her ability to gather and process information, which was clearly necessary for this book, but rather with her willingness to talk about a taboo subject, especially when it comes to sharing her personal experiences. At times however, I found Lonely too be clinical in a way that was less enjoyable for me to read, possibly because I already spend my days in the scientific field and prefer to use literature as an escape rather than an opportunity to learn detailed information about studies and statistics which were occasionally difficult to distinguish and blurred together.

Lonely is an important book because it discusses something which is too often considered a source of shame and silently swept under the rug or dismissed as depression. Unfortunately, the significant portion of Lonely which focuses on scientific studies failed to captivate me in the same way the story of White's personal journey did. I easily suggest this book for readers looking to learn more about loneliness, as a lot of research has gone into the book.  Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude provides insight into a condition where a lot of information is still needed, luckily this book is a step in the right direction.

Release Date: January 18th, 2011
Pages: 352
Overall: 3/5
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 


  1. I have to admit that prior to hearing about this book I hadn't thought of loneliness as a disease or disorder, perhaps because it isn't something that gets much attention. Hopefully this book will start to bring some needed attention to it.

    Thanks for such a thorough review and for being a part of the tour.

  2. I'm interested in this book and am glad to know ahead of time that it's less memoir and more nonfiction. I don't think I'd mind, as long as I'm not expecting one kind of book and getting another!


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