Book Report – The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

I found The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone on one of those December top-10 lists for best books. It’s a memoir, a biography and original reporting on loneliness told through the author’s experience moving to New York and the work of famous artists.

I have struggled at times with loneliness and this book addresses what that means, why we connect with others and how technology plays a role. It’s also about why certain artists expressed loneliness through their work and what it means for the rest of us.

Short Synopsis from Amazon

“When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives – from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules, from Henry Darger’s hoarding to the depredations of the AIDS crisis – Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.”

My Report

This book was both easy and hard to read at the same time. It doesn’t so much answer all the questions posed in the first few pages but it allows the reader to think about their own life and develop answer for themselves. I like that.

It also highlights how overcoming loneliness is exceptionally difficult because societal norms are constantly working against it.

I certainly won’t look at Edward Hopper’s famous piece Nighthawks the same way ever again. As the book explains about the piece, there is no door to the outside, and the glass and colors have specific meanings. What does that have to do with loneliness? Well, read the book. The level of detail combined with reporting on the artists’ background leads to a level of understanding that gives the reader a sense that others have experience the same thing they may be going through and why.

I read this book hundreds of a miles away from family and good friends after just seeing them. I’m not sure if that helped our hurt and I identified with this:

Reading this book on a lonesome business trip, I found myself wondering if “The Lonely City” made the exact wrong or exact right companion for forlorn airport loitering and desolate continental breakfasting. I think both. Reading this book made me feel aloneness more acutely, but also exposed its value. As Laing describes finding consolation in the work of artists, so this book serves as both provocation and comfort, a secular prayer for those who are alone — meaning all of us. – Ada Calhoun, The New York Times, March 17, 2016.



The book is widely available.

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