I started reading several books in April but I didn’t finish any of them. Usually, when I have a compelling book on the go, I look forward to getting the time to read a few chapters in the evening. But my well of reading matter has run dry and I need to stock up on good books.
The first book I started reading last month was The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. I received a free digital copy from the publisher (Canongate Books in the UK) via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The premise of the book centres around a time in Olivia Laing’s life when she finds herself alone in New York after a bad break-up, having moved from the UK to be with her American boyfriend. Despite being surrounded by millions of people, loneliness in the city can be at its most acute.
“The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure” (Quote source: Goodreads)
Laing explores her own state of intense loneliness by reporting on the lives of iconic artists who also experienced ‘the lonely city’, from Edward Hopper to Andy Warhol. I was most interested in Edward Hopper, and reading this book led me to Google him to see the paintings which Laing describes.
But I wasn’t compelled by all of her artist subjects; I started skimming through the chapters on David Wojnarowicz and Henry Darger. I confess I hadn’t heard of these two artists before opening the book, and their art does not appeal to me. In fact, I found aspects of it grotesque and disturbing.
The book didn’t match up to my expectations. I was hoping for a much deeper exploration of this period of the author’s life, but her reflections on her own experience in ‘the lonely city’ are relatively concise compared to the lengthy elaborations on the artists. It feels, as one reviewer said, as though Laing is keeping back some aspects of her own experience. Laing’s writing is well-constructed and it isn’t a bad book; it just didn’t compel me to keep reading.
The other books I started reading in April were The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell and Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith. I’m still reading the McCall Smith book. It’s a light, amusing read set in a privileged middle-class corner of Edinburgh, but it isn’t really satisfying my craving for a compelling, literary plot.
What should I read next? If you have any recommendations, let me know! What have you been reading recently?