The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (Canongate)
One of the best books I read in 2016 was Olivia Laing’s curiously addictive exploration of loneliness and the modern city, by way of art.
Alone and adrift in New York in her mid-thirties, Laing found herself falling prey to loneliness, an experience that society traditionally deems negative and shameful. Through studying the lives and work of various diverse and brilliant artists – including Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper – she starts to find a way to communicate and connect with people again, whilst also stumbling on repeated examples of the wealth of opportunity and creativity that can be borne of loneliness. The message is quite fascinating and life-affirming, as Laing illuminates just how universal loneliness is and how fundamental it is to human life, imagination and artistic productivity – perhaps something to embrace rather than to dread. Incredibly accessible, this book will make you re-evaluate the way you interact with the city you live in and hopefully to feel its energy and possibilities.
An unexpected highlight of the book for me was learning about the work of edgy American photographer and filmmaker David Wojnarowicz and his tireless AIDS activism in the 1980s. Laing’s descriptions of his life are so poignant and fascinating that my next read after The Lonely City was Wojnarowicz’s own wild and devastating autobiographical graphic novel, 7 Miles A Second. Also recommended!