Lonely: A Memoir by Emily White

I was a little hesitant to review this book because it hit really close to home for me. I was worried about how reviewing this book would reveal a problem I’ve dealt with since I was a little girl. But then I remembered that a) this isn’t about me and b) Emily White would disapprove of my hiding this information. So here we go:

This book is about chronic loneliness, and Emily White’s lifelong experience with it. Despite the connotations associated with the word “lonely,” it isn’t a silly affliction. She makes several points clear: chronic loneliness is not depression. It’s not a side-effect of depression, either (in fact, it’s often the other way around). It’s not the type of loneliness one feels while one’s husband or wife is on a business trip, or when one is spending a solitary Sunday evening away from friends and family in a strange place. Chronic loneliness can be genetic, or it can be triggered by life’s circumstances (for instance, mine is a result of both genetics and moving every few years as a kid; for others, it can be triggered by divorce, deaths, etc.). Chronic loneliness has negative effects on both our physical and mental health. It’s surprisingly common, so why doesn’t anybody talk about it? White argues that the stigma attached to loneliness causes people to hide it, which in turn leads to less treatment for it.

This is not a self-help book. It’s more of a call to action. This means that even if you don’t think you suffer from chronic loneliness, it is definitely worth reading if only to see its role within Western society. It doesn’t read like an academic paper, yet I couldn’t get over how clearly she organized and presented her information. However, like I said before, this isn’t a self-help book, so don’t expect concrete solutions. White actually addressed this in her blog:

A reader of Lonely once flamed me (is that what the cool kids say?) for writing a book about loneliness and still being lonely. He wanted, I guess, to hear about loneliness from someone who had totally mastered the state. I think there are some strategies you can bring to bear on loneliness (I’m going to post a lecture by a British researcher on this topic soon), but I’ll say in advance to anyone interested in Lonely that loneliness is still a problem in my life.

For those who do suffer from chronic loneliness and want to read this book, don’t let that discourage you. Insight from White and others who are lonely is plentiful, and just knowing that there are people out there with similar experiences can be very therapeutic.

You can check out White’s blog here.

The next book I read and review will be about a much lighter topic, I promise!


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