Books

Reading for the withdrawn ‹ Literary centre

Welcome to Life advice for book lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating at you in an email to deardorothea@lithub.com and I’ll tell you what to read next.

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Dear Dorothea,

I recently moved into a new neighborhood, into an apartment by myself. My friends and family see it as independent, but they’re not really around, and the truth is, I’m lonely.

I don’t know when I became such a sad, antisocial person. Maybe it has something to do with the pandemic? (Definitely something to do with the pandemic.) I used to like going out, and these days I hardly ever leave my apartment. I work from home. I want to go out, I think. But the world is a scary place! I’m afraid I’ll become a recluse. Or at least someone with social anxiety. What should I do?

Of course, I don’t expect a book to cure me of this, but if you have suggestions for reading material, I’m here.

Yours sincerely
Secluded reader

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Dear Retired Reader,

As I write this I’m also doing a happy dance because my evening plans just got cancelled, so believe me when I say I understand that I don’t want to leave the house or see anyone or do anything. And, yes, absolutely, the world is a scary place. There are some days when you wake up and read the news or look at the gray sky and you just want to go back to bed. Hell, there are some days when you wake up and you just want to go back to the womb. What I’m getting at: you’re not alone in this isolated feeling.

I once heard of this study that said the vast majority of New Yorkers feel their day is improved by a random conversation with someone on the subway, but less than 20 percent of people would actually be willing to initiate such an interaction . I’m not sure where in this hectic world you are, but I think we can extrapolate. It’s so easy to get stuck in our own little individual cones of silence and forget that people are mostly less scary than we make them out to be in our minds.

So here’s what I’d recommend: you take a little trip over to your local independent bookstore. (Hopefully it’s not too much of a trip!) Booksellers are notoriously lovely people, often with very good book recommendations. Start a small conversation with low stakes (no pressure!) and see how it goes.

And then, while you’re there, maybe pick up Kathleen Alcott’s Infinite home, a very good novel that dissects (as the title suggests) our ideas about home. It takes place in a brownstone in Brooklyn, which a nice older woman rents out to a group of tenants. However, the woman, Edith, is losing her memory. And the arrival of her greedy son threatens eviction and the loss of the lives they have become familiar with.

Of course they have to team up to save their home – but not in a cheesy way can-we-fix-it-yes-we-can way. More importantly, the characters on these pages will surely prove to be good company. They are so unique in their struggles and passions; they feel whole, and in this way you, the reader, may feel seen. There is a brother and a sister who have become dependent on each other. An artist recovering from a stroke. There is even a woman who is afraid to leave her apartment. (She’s my favorite.)

only love
Dorothea

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