Leave Me Alone!
After all the cookouts, parties, and other social events of the summer, it can be tempting to bunker down in the fall and spend some time alone. While we can’t all just drop our lives and make our merry way into the remote woods, we can escape through the power of books. Fortunately, there are plenty of books on solitude and the hermit life out there. This list will get you started. And, if you just happen to get lost in the Appalachian trails on a long weekend, at least you’ll have a book for company.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Perhaps the most famous book on solitude, Walden describes 19th century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s retreat into the wilderness of Massachusetts. Although analysis of Thoreau’s life and works will show his alleged hermiting wasn’t as solitary as is generally suggested, Walden remains a cornerstone of works on the topic of being alone. Pulling from journals Thoreau kept during his withdrawal from society, Walden is divided into a number of chapters commenting on a variety of more specific subjects, including reading, his immediate surroundings, and other observations.
Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris
Reflecting on the constant buzz of life in the 21st century, Harris provides a framework for finding peace in solitude. With commentary on the benefits of isolating oneself, Solitude considers self-discovery with a dose of scientific perspective and clinical research. Useful and informative for readers who enjoy popular psychology, this book not only addresses solitude as a topic itself, but also achieving it and getting the most from your retreat.
Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom
Choosing to be alone in a crowd, Rosenbloom recounts her travels in this memoir. In Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York, Rosenbloom reveals how she became more present in her journeys by traveling solo. Like Harris’s book, Solitude remarks on the benefits of self-isolation, hitting on results such as augmented creativity, flexibility, and the increased ability to DIY. Rosenbloom takes readers along with her to various museums and other places of interest in the four cities.
The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude by Howard Axelrod
After a series of small tragedies, Axelrod moved to the remote forests of Vermont, effectively abandoning society for two years. With limited human communication, Axelrod details his experience of solitude in this memoir, meditating on concepts such as time, the meaning of life, and other big and haunting questions. With plenty of time for thought, Axelrod guides his readers through his journey to a new take on life.
Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd
Not all solitude is voluntary. Despite many opponents calling out solitary confinement in prisons as a cruel and unusual punishment, the practice remains in American prison systems. This collection curates sixteen essays from inmates who have lived in the conditions of solitary confinement alongside commentary from various experts. Visceral and eye-opening, Hell Is a Very Small Place approaches solitude from a new, perhaps unexpected perspective, providing balance to other titles in this list that come from more significantly privileged voices.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last true Hermit by Michael Finkel
Captivated by the story of Christopher Knight, who left his home in Massachusetts without explanation and lived in the woods of Maine for a number of years, Michael Finkel tells Knight’s story, beginning with his retreat to the aftermath of forced societal reintegration. Knight’s tale is peppered with observations on other famous hermits and writings on seclusion and reclusion. The Stranger in the Woods is an excellent choice for fans of true crime and mysteries.
Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling
Finding herself in an empty nest, Lynn Darling left New York for a remote piece of Vermont when her daughter left for college. Her memories and observations come together in Out of the Woods, in which readers navigate Darling’s meditations on her life as she explores the hiking trails of New England and applies what she learns to mapping the days to come. A great choice for fans of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Out of the Woods offers the perspective from a woman on another journey both literal and figurative.
Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung
Though not strictly focused on being alone, Debbie Tung’s autobiographical book of comic vignettes often has underlying themes both of feeling alone in a world made for extroverts and literally being alone and preferring it as a way to recharge from the tax of life. In one panel, readers see an illustrated Tung speaking with her significant other, who says in a speech bubble, “You’ll be alone for most of the day.” Readers are to understand the partner saying this as a sort of warning, but introverts will recognize Tung’s response as gleeful when she says, “I know. Isn’t it exciting?!” Adorable and a quick read, Quiet Girl will have introverts and would-be-recluses turning each page only to say, “That’s so me!”