Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude Hardcover – Feb 9 2010
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Quill & Quire
In recent years, the memoir has shifted from the tell-all to the personal essay, and from there it has branched out into various forms of creative non-fiction: often beautiful me-centered takes on some aspect of the human condition that engage and instruct simultaneously. Emily White’s first book falls into this category. While Lonely’s narrative sticks pretty closely to the trajectory of White’s personal journey, the book also draws on a wide range of research – from neuropsychology to social studies – in an attempt to bring a well-known yet frequently unacknowledged human experience out of the shadows.
White was born almost a decade later than her two sisters, and four years before her parents divorced. Although well-loved and cared for, much of her childhood was characterized by loneliness. However, the true depth of her isolation did not manifest itself until after she graduated from the University of Toronto law school (where she was happiest, surrounded by friends and kept busy) and started work as an environmental lawyer. A cluster of small factors in her life stirred up feelings of exclusion that worsened as the years went on. This extended period of chronic loneliness inspired her to research and write Lonely.
White corrects many widely held misconceptions about loneliness and the people who find themselves gripped by it. She points out that lonely people are not “needy” and thus somehow impaired.
Unfortunately, as White attests, there are almost no ongoing scientific studies of loneliness, in sharp contrast to its media-friendly cousin, depression. Of the limited work that is being done on the subject, social neuroscientist John Cacioppo dominates the field. He points out that the experience of feeling socially isolated is not just sad, it’s dangerous. Dangerous because, from an evolutionary perspective, humans are social animals, and we need other people to survive – literally.
Although the condition is on the rise in our increasingly fragmented and migratory society, loneliness continues to be a source of shame. Perhaps White’s bravery in exposing her own heart and soul, and her skill in integrating these experiences with expert findings, will bring loneliness out of the shadows and into the light of public discourse at last.
“Kudos to Emily White for having written that rare book which feels both necessary and evolutionary. Lonely is a masterwork on the topic, a memoir of deep insight and revelation.” (Alice Sebold)
“[A] sophisticated inquiry...The power of White’s story comes from the sweeping investment she has made in tracking and tackling her loneliness. White makes the case that loneliness deserves attention and respect as a legitimate condition.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“[A]n impassioned call to arms on behalf of a condition no one wants to talk about.” (Jezebel.com)
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I want to apologize for the tone of this review up front. 'Catty' might describe it best, but even if I were to cajole 'downright biting' out of you as your descriptive, the fact... Read morePublished on June 1 2010 by Schmadrian