Alone! Alone! Alone, whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss
While you do your part to curb one of the worst pandemics facing America in recent history by practicing social distancing, do not fear solitude! Instead, celebrate the wonderful human being that you are by reading some equally wonderful books about the power of self-reflection and acceptance. This is a scary time, but we can all afford to be hopeful, and perhaps we can start by using our time in quarantine to learn a little more about ourselves and our relationships--with others and with the world.
Arguably Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground follows an unnamed narrator in his descent from public official to underground recluse. After withdrawing fully from his public life, the narrator makes impassioned observations in his solitude on social utopianism and the irrational nature of humankind. Worry not, you probably won't risk becoming a reclusive curmudgeon just by reading this book, but you can still take solace in the narrator's familiar cynicism and frustration with the shortcomings of his fellow man.
Eggshells by Caitriona Lally
Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in--never has. She lives alone in a house in north Dublin that her great-aunt left her. She has no friends, no job, few social skills, and her parents used to tell her she was a “changeling”; a creature left behind from another world. Vivian decides it’s time to change her life, so she begins advertising for a new friend: “WANTED: Friend Called Penelope Must Enjoy Talking Because I Don’t Have Much to Say. Good Sense of Humor Not Required Because My Laugh Is A Work in Progress. Must Answer to Penelope: Pennies Need Not Apply.” When an actual Penelope answers her ad, Vivian sets off on a journey to their first meeting. But will the two actually become friends? Rooted in the whimsical beauty of Northern Ireland, Eggshells is a deeply personal and touching story about friendship, solitude, loneliness and hope.
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Jamison’s enlightening and thought-provoking essays ask essential questions about our understanding and experience of others. How should we care about each other? How can we feel each other’s pain? How can we work to practice empathy? Jamison confronts these questions and more in her collection to uncover a personal agency to feel and search beyond her own life, and to learn from the experiences and feelings of others. In this confusing and alienating time, The Empathy Exams is a great tool to reflect on the importance of having empathy for others, and thinking about how to care about your friends and neighbors without actually being able to see or talk to them.
The unnamed narrator in strange author Ottessa Moshfegh’s newest novel is like many of us right now: confined to her apartment, out of work, and just trying to stay alive and find something to fill her days. The main difference, however, is that the narrator in Rest and Relaxation has chosen to confine herself to her apartment in order to carry out her plan of sleeping away an entire year. Using a mad combination of drugs, sleep aids, and cold medicine, our narrator plans to fix the gaping hole she feels in her soul by alienating herself from a world that she already feels alienated from. With her trademark mix of boldness, black humor and surprising tenderness, Moshfegh shows how reasonable and even necessary alienation can be.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
In perhaps one of the most intimate and mesmerizing English novels, Charlotte Bronte brings the reader, the author, and her illuminating main character together in an intensely private communion. If you’re quarantining alone, Jane will be an extraordinary friend to you as she navigates the harsh terrain of her unforgiving life and tries to discover who she is while at the same time craving the love and affection she’s always dreamed of. It’s quite a long novel, complete with gothic dreariness, passionate romance, and a memorable main character, but there is no better time than now to dive into the world of Jane Eyre. It is sure to be one of your favorites for years to come.