Archives For Loneliness


NPR Book Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews one of this week’s most important new book releases

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Olivia Laing

Hardback: Picador, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
These closing lines of the review ring particularly true:

“[Olivia Laing] campaigns against what she calls the gentrification of cities and of emotions. By that, she means the homogenizing, whitening, deadening effect that causes us to deny the existence of the shameful and the unwanted.”

Listen now:

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“Community: Linking Belief with Intention”


A Review of
The Lonely American:
Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century.

by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz.

 Reviewed by Mark Eckel.


The Lonely American:
Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century.

by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz.
Hardcover: Beacon Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]


Community is intentional.  Like anything else, interaction with others takes work.  Books such as The Great, Good Place by Ray Oldenburg encouraged a targeted approach to gathering.  Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities told us how to create stability for gathering.  Leon Kass in his The Hungry Soul encouraged us to feed our interiority for the benefit of gathering.  A reverse historical display of famous progenitors has already warned against individualism and established the case for community: Putnam’s Bowling Alone (1995), Bellah’s Habits of the Heart (1985), Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979), Nisbet’s The Quest for Community (1953) and Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (1950).  One wishes that The Lonely American could have added new active ideas toward their purpose of “push and pull” (11) to relieve our loneliness.


Of course, Olds and Schwartz leave us with much to agree.  Concerns over social isolation mirror Putnam’s classic Bowling Alone, and examples abound.  The individuality of “accepting Jesus as one’s personal Savior” (37-38) strikes a cord with biblical theology which rightly sees the cosmic concern of Christ for His creation (Ephesians 1:15-23; Colossians 1:15-20).  Our ecclesiology is also impacted if American individualism shapes and changes the collective whole of Jesus’ Bride (see Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 2:11-22; 4:1-6 ).  Chapter 5 highlights what ought to be obvious for those committed to the Incarnation – technology cannot overcome our relational difficulties because we have bodies.  The authors rightly contend, “The worry is that we will forget the importance of reaching at least some people through the fullness of a shared physical presence” (104).  And surely anyone can intuit that multiple choices lead to a technological “tyranny” (110ff).  The writing team contends we accept the new interface with internet connections without losing the face-to-face community necessary for our bodied persons.  “The loss of witnesses” (123-24) is a strong intergenerational concern.  Communitarian audience may enhance individual growth.  “Religious small groups” (187-89) acts as a cohesive advantage in a culturally diverse society, giving more common ground.

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The Washington Post Reviews

As a small girl growing up in California, Laura Miller did not just long to visit Narnia. So bewitched was she by that imagined realm — laid out in seven novels back in the 1950s by an eccentric English don — she was pretty sure that not being able to visit it in person would kill her. Along with its various sequels and prequels, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe brought her the purest sort of bliss. It was the book, she writes in this meandering but beguiling appreciation, “that made a reader out of me.”

When Miller was in her early teens, she discovered “what is instantly obvious to any adult reader: that the Chronicles of Narnia are filled with Christian symbolism” and that the books that had been the cornerstone of her imaginative life were “really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise.”

Miller had been raised a Catholic (close enough, for literary purposes, to C.S. Lewis’s born-again Anglicanism), but she was left as cold as a Narnia winter by what she describes as the church’s “guilt-mongering and tedious rituals.” The sense of betrayal by Lewis was so great that for a long time she wanted nothing to do with his now “appallingly transfigured” fairy tale.

A lot of readers have felt that way about Narnia — and not just since Disney’s unsubtle blockbuster movie in 2005 left the whole series more or less hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. Lewis’s longtime friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth and a self-described “devout Roman Catholic,” objected to what he considered the books’ heavy-handed Christian parallels, too.

Read the full review:

Laura Miller.

Hardcover: Little, Brown, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ] [ Amazon ]

BOOKS AND CULTURE reviews poet Adam Zagajewski’s
newest book ETERNAL ENEMIES.

To open Adam Zagajewski’s new book Eternal Enemies is to find oneself in motion. “To travel without baggage, sleep in the train / on a hard wooden bench, / forget your native land,” begins “En Route.” A few pages later the narrator wonders whether it was “worth waiting in consulates / for some clerk’s fleeting good humor” and “worth taking the underground / beneath I can’t recall what city” (“Was It”). Other poems find him in cars, imagining the “great ships that wandered the ocean,” on a plane flying over the arctic, on more trains, and occasionally on foot.

Often the motion is not just from one city or country to another, but from one historical era to another. In “Notes from a Trip to Famous Excavations,” for instance, the narrator sees “campaign slogans on the walls / and know[s] that the elections ended long ago,” yet when a gate swings open, the past becomes present as “wine returns to the pitchers, / and love comes back to the homesteads / where it once dwelled.” The poems move, as well, from concrete particular to the abstract and transcendent—from an epiphany, as Zagajewski once wrote in an essay, to the kitchen and “the envelope holding the telephone bill.”

Some of poems’ loveliest effects are achieved by juxtaposing one time or dimension with another, as in “Star,” the opening poem. “I’m not the young poet who wrote / too many lines,” the narrator recalls:

and wandered in the maze
of narrow streets and illusions.
The sovereign of clocks and shadows
has touched my brow with his hand

Notice how the narrator links “narrow streets” with “illusions,” and “clocks” with “shadows.” Small gestures like these give this poem, like many in Eternal Enemies, a tone that is somehow both wistful and particular. So too do the precise, loving references to buildings and streets that will be unfamiliar to most American readers (such as “Long Street” and “Karmelicka Street” and “Staglieno”—the first two in Krakow, the third a graveyard in Genoa, Italy, if you’re wondering). Zagajewki’s places are always more than simply places. They are both mythical and real, a quality that will come through even for readers who are less traveled and don’t put down the book long enough to Google the names.

Read the full review:

Adam Zagajewski.

Hardcover: FSG, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reviews two recent books on loneliness

With one holiday just past us and more on the way, it is a good bet that feelings of loneliness will register a sizable uptick in our emotional biorhythms. As we all know, a sense that one is isolated from the rest of humanity can descend at all sorts of times — not only on a bleak street at dawn, or in an out-of-town hotel room or during the kind of “solitary restaurant dinner” that F. Scott Fitzgerald saw as the epitome of “haunting loneliness.” The sense of loneliness can come upon us even at a raucous office party or a family dinner by a crackling fire or amid jostling crowds of bargain-hunting Christmas shoppers.

But why is this? In “Loneliness,” John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick try to explain. We all need to make three types of human connection, they say: with intimate or romantic partners, with close friends and with our “collectivity” — the community or nation as a whole. A failure on any one of these fronts is what produces loneliness.

But not only loneliness. For, as Mr. Cacioppo’s own research at the University of Chicago shows, feelings of loneliness and isolation are actually associated with a raft of social pathologies: everything from addiction, depression and uncontrollable anger to impaired cardiovascular functioning and damage to the brain’s “executive control” center. Studies even suggest that a rejection by humans “can increase the tendency to anthropomorphize one’s pet,” which sheds new light on the life of Leona Helmsley.

Messrs. Cacioppo and Patrick are thus arguing, among other things, that a concerted attack on loneliness would improve public health as well as individual happiness. The problem is that they take a scattershot view of what the attack should look like. They recommend everything from saying “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” to the grocer and taking therapy to prevent negative thoughts to finding human connection on the Internet. Which is all very well, except that a cautionary note is needed: Here, as elsewhere, a cure can sometimes be as costly as the disease.

Read the full review:

Cacioppo and Patrick.

Hardcover: Norton, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Loneliness As a Way of Life.
Thomas Dumm.

Hardcover: Harvard UP, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]


Time may well prove that John Cacioppo and William Patrick’s new book LONELINESS: HUMAN NATURE AND THE NEED FOR SOCIAL CONNECTION is the most important book of 2008.  I regret only that I heard it about it so late that I didn’t get to spend the time that I would have liked with it.  LONELINESS is based on Cacioppo’s psychological research on the health effects of loneliness, and offers scientific confirmation for the intuitions that many of us have had about the dangers of individualism and isolation.  The book’s dustjacket highlights well the radical potential in this book: “Ultimately, LONELINESS demonstrates the irrationality of our culture’s intense focus on competition and individualism at the expense of family and community.  It makes the case that the unit of one is actually an inadequate measure, even when it comes to the health and well-being of an individual.”  (If anyone wants to immerse themselves in this book and write a feature-length review, I would be glad to consider it for publication.)


Although now eclipsed by economic issues, immigration has been one of the most pressing political issues of 2008 in the U.S.  Daniel Carroll R.’s CHRISTIANS AT THE BORDERS: IMMIGRATION, THE CHURCH AND THE BIBLE is one of (if not) the best resources for helping the Church to think theologically — and to do so in distinctively Christian ways — about immigration.  CHRISTIANS AT THE BORDERS is refreshing in that it does not explicitly endorse any specific political action, but rather provides a wonder historical context in which to understand immigration from Latin America, and then surveys the Scriptures to seek the light that they might shed on immigration issues.  I would love to see other books of this sort emerge that help the Church to engage faithfully the complex socio-politcal issues of our day.


After we reviewed, his lovely little book on Sr. Thea Bowman, Br. Mickey McGrath sent us a copy of his new children’s book Mysteries of the Rosary.   This book is a beautiful introduction — educational for Christians of all traditions — to the “mysteries” (i.e., stories from the life of Jesus) that underlie the praying of the rosary.  These mysteries are divided into four groups that trace the story of Christ’s life (The joyful mysteries= Christ’s advent, The luminous mysteries= Christ’s earthly ministry, the sorrowful mysteries= Christ’s arrest and crucifixion and the glorious mysteries=Christ’s resurrection)  McGrath’s vibrant, colorful paintings represent Christ with people of a different culture for each group of mysteries, which is a welcome reminder of the pertinence of the Gospel stories for all of humanity.

John Cacioppo and William Patrick.

Hardcover: Norton, 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]

M. Daniel Carroll R.

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $14 ]  [ Amazon ]

Michael O’Neill McGrath.

Hardcover: World Library Publications, 2008.


Interview with Matt Bonzo about his book

CPYU: What first drew you to Wendell Berry’s writing? How has he influenced your work as a philosopher and college professor?


MB: I found my way into Berry’s work through his short stories where his concern for community and his emphasis on a sense of place resonate. As a professor I work hard to craft a classroom as a place where students belong. Learning is a project that we engage in together. And we work hard towards the making of a good life that we share by asking hard questions about how we understand and what we desire. Beyond the walls of education, my family and I run a small C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) farm the shape of which has been influenced by Berry’s vision.

Read the full interview:

Matthew Bonzo and Michael Stevens.
Paperback: Brazos Press, Dec 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $18 ]  [ Amazon ]

“The Imagination of Man’s Heart”
BOOKS AND CULTURE reviews Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666

For fifteen years, young women have been disappearing in Juarez. They share a phenotype (petite), an economic status (marginal), and a fate: their bodies turn up weeks after their disappearances, usually raped, often mutilated. The confirmed death toll numbers in the hundreds. Journalists who investigate the killings receive death threats and find themselves tailed by well-dressed men; women who try to report their daughters’ disappearances find themselves laughed out of the police station. Few arrests have been made, and the resulting trials, even rarer, are rife with evidence tampering. In 2006, as the body count reached a statistical peak, the Mexican government announced that its investigation was concluded.


Theories abound, the most persuasive of which (to my mind) comes from gutsy El Paso journalist Diana Valdez Washington: she argues that Juarez law enforcement has more or less ceded the area to Mexican drug cartels, whose operatives are now free to thrill-kill ad libet. But there are more sensational explanations on offer, and one of the most persistent is this: that the women are victims of a well-connected snuff filmmaking ring. This theory, though it lacks much in the way of support—Amnesty International has condemned it as sensationalist and distracting—is one of several entertained by Roberto Bolaño in his massive novel about the killings, 2666 (first published in Spanish in 2004, and just released in English translation). Why are these women disappearing? Bolaño answers: they are the victims of a genre. As with the racial-hygiene fantasies of the fascists, or the absurd geometries of Borges’ Tlon, the snuff film takes a bad, impossible story—in this case, the Sadean melodrama of total dominance over others—and imposes it on reality.


The human imagination is a grave problem. Animals in a so-called state of nature may kill each other for food, but they won’t, like the Nazis, wipe out six million of their own for the sake of a fairytale. Only creatures with the power to tell stories can work destruction like that. Perhaps that’s why Bolaño entire novelistic output—written mostly in a ten-year spasm of activity before his early death from liver failure—seems to revolve around artists, and, crucially, why his own imaginary products resist closure so successfully.

Read the full review:

A novel by Roberto Bolaño.
Hardcover. FSG, 2008
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $24 ]  [ Amazon ]

John Cacioppo, author of
Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection
on Whether Technology is Making Us Lonely?
Video ( Running time: 5:11)

Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.
John Cacioppo.
Hardcover. Norton, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]