Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lonely by Emily White

Title: Lonely
Author: Emily White
Pages: 352
Release Date: March 9, 2010
Publisher: Harper Publishing
ISBN: 978-0061765094
Genre: Memoir; Non-Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: Despite having a demanding job, good friends, and a supportive family, Emily White spent many of her evenings and weekends alone at home, trying to understand why she felt so completely disconnected from everyone. In this insightful and soul-baring memoir, White recounts her struggle to comprehend and overcome her chronic loneliness, a debilitating condition that she contends deserves the same attention as depression and other mental difficulties. Interweaving her personal story with cutting-edge scientific research—as well as incredibly moving accounts offered by numerous lonely men and women—White provides a deep and thorough portrait of this increasingly common but too often ignored affliction.

My Thoughts: Emily White, in her memoir Lonely, sets out to explain and de-stigmatize the little understood but wide ranging condition of loneliness. As she puts it, "to give voice to an experience that mattered, one that affected people far and wide". Though I found this book eye opening, informative and very well written, it was, at times, too clinical. It was during those parts of the book that I found myself overwhelmed by research studies. It took the book out of the realm of "memoir". Too often, for the majority of lay people looking to learn about loneliness as a condition, Lonely reads more like a scientific thesis or text book study.

That's not to say there isn't a wealth of relatable and very human information the author provides about herself. It's when Ms. White is discussing her personal experiences that I found myself unable to put the book down. It left me wanting more. Her personal story is honest and raw. She admits to being nervous about leaving herself open and vulnerable in revealing her experience with loneliness, but she doesn't hold back which I found quite admirable. Ms. White was told by those closest to her that admitting to loneliness and writing about it is something to be embarrassed about, that it was trivial and "not real", making her candor all the more courageous. Reactions such as this also made Ms. White all the more determined to show the world that "there is nothing wrong with loneliness" and there's "no need for the shame and self-blame it creates".

Ms. White started a blog about loneliness with the desire to find other lonely people. She occasionally shares their experiences coping with loneliness throughout her memoir. But, as with her own story, Ms. White only provides tidbits of their stories here and there to illustrate the findings of the research studies. It's because Ms. White didn't share more about her story or the stories of these other people that I was disappointed. In her zeal to make loneliness understood, Ms. White gets carried away explaining it in clinical terms. This makes those parts of the book dry and somewhat sterile. Her writing is so good and her story so compelling, the book would have held up just fine with more personal anecdotes less clinical references.

I'm not saying it's not a good book. It is. It's just that, as a memoir, it might be mislabeled. When I am told a book is a memoir, I expect something akin to an autobiography. As I explained above, the book is (only) about 30% memoir, the rest being references to and citations from studies, scientific research, and accounts from other people. I would insist that anyone who wants to learn about loneliness as a real condition read this book. The author does achieve her goal of getting the reader to look at loneliness beyond the "mainstream" perception. Usually, someone sitting down to a TV dinner by themselves every night because they are socially inept. As if it's a choice. Like depression, it's a real problem. Unlike depression, there's no universal treatment or help for it, although that's coming, hopefully. Loneliness as a condition is unique and complex and shouldn't be trivialized. So read this book if you want to learn more than you ever imagined applied to loneliness, just be forewarned this is not some tell-all confessional but a smart and well researched book with a definite purpose. Ms. White is very good with research, but don't make the mistake that it's because of the loneliness. Loneliness and solitude are not the same, which she wisely makes us aware. However, it's unfortunate that too often Ms. White hides behind the fruits of the research, using it in an academic, impersonal manner when her own story is already quite captivating and inspiring.

Emily White has a corresponding blog at which she blogs about loneliness, her cats and other aspects of her life.

I won Lonely from Bookin' with Bingo and reviewed for TLC Book Tours.


  1. "Too often, for the majority of lay people looking to learn about loneliness as a condition, Lonely reads more like a scientific thesis or text book study."

    That is too bad! I actually like to read the sort of thesis-like approach, but I can imagine that you think it is mislabelled and thus turns out to be a disappointment for some readers.

  2. To me, a memoir has to include a very personal aspect. Perhaps the clinical treatment of the subject diluted that.

    I find the subject of loneliness quite interesting though. There are certain times of the year where loneliness hits me. Although I can usually feel it coming, it's not necessarily a bad feeling. At least not for me. It's often a time to reflect and I use it as such.

  3. It's nice to see loneliness given a bit more respect.

  4. This sounds like a fascinating memoir addressing a condition not usually talked about...

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  5. I do love a good memoir, but clinical stuff, not so much. I don't think this one's for me.

  6. Thanks for this honest review. The book sounds quite interesting.

    How are you and the kitties? Hope you are all doing well. :)

  7. I think it is amazing that Ms. White chose to write about her loneliness in the face of criticism from those close to her - that takes a great deal of strength. I think I would have found her personal story more compelling than the research as well, but I'm still fascinated by this book.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm sorry the book wasn't exactly what you expected but I'm glad you enjoyed parts of it!

  8. IRIS: Thank you for visiting! I expected something a little different from this book because I thought it was a memoir. But it was still interesting and I know a lot about the condition of Loneliness now. Before reading this book I would have luped it in with depression.

    TI: I think Loneliness is an interesting subject, too. And I've experienced it, too, so I liked learning about it. This book opened my eyes to loneliness as a condition in its own right. I would have liked a more comprehensive view of the author's own experience.

  9. ALICE AUDREY: I think so too!

    CREATIONS by LAUREL-RAIN SNOW: It's definitely a book worth reading and possibly re-reading depending on your interest re: Loneliness. I think it's great that Emily White is encouraging people to think about and talk about loneliness.

  10. BERMUDAONION: It sounds like this book probably isn't one you'd enjoy very much because the author's story is mixed in with the research and the studies and what some other people think & feel about loneliness. Emily White is writing a book now, though, so maybe that one will be more to your taste!

    PESKY CAT: Hi! Good to see you! This book is quite interesting as is the author's blog!
    I'll stob by soon!

  11. HEATHER: Thank you for allowing me to review the book for TLC Books. I'm certainly glad I read Lonely and I think I'll read parts of it again. I enjoy hearing about people and their life stories so I just wanted to know more about Ms. White because she is intelligent, brave & inspiring.

  12. I think this doesn't sound like a memoir as much as a scientific non-fiction book with some memoir bits thrown in. It makes me somewhat curious though how to really define "loneliness" and could it just be a symptom of depression or something else?

  13. I'm glad to know going in that Lonely is less of a memoir than its label might lead one to believe. I do like nonfiction books with bits of memoir thrown in, but if I go in expecting straight memoir, I'm likely to be disappointed. I am intrigued by this one and hope to get to it, though probably not any time soon.

  14. I've never thought of lonliness as a condition before. Interesting. I'd be interested in reading this someday. And now I've been warned about the memoir misconception :)

  15. Wonderful review Amy. I would be very interested in reading about loneliness as a condition, but I am not sure if I would be put off by the textbook quality to portions of it. I think this is one that I want to get from the library.

  16. I was really interested in this one when I heard about it but I also think I would be hoping for more of a memoir and less of the scientific stuff.

  17. I just posted my review of this one, and I actually had almost the opposite reaction you did. I found myself reacting quite negatively to Emily's personal story initially, but really enjoyed the research aspects of the book. I thought she did a really good job of presenting the more scientific data in a very readable fashion. I did have trouble with some of her conclusions, though (or at least felt confused by them on more than one occasion). All in all, a very mixed review from me, but I'm glad I read the book!