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The Lonely City
Cover of The Lonely City
The Lonely City
Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism

#1 Book of the Year from Brain Pickings

Named a best book of the year by NPR, Newsweek, Slate, Pop Sugar, Marie Claire, Elle, Publishers Weekly, and Lit Hub

A dazzling work of biography, memoir, and cultural criticism on the subject of loneliness, told through the lives of iconic artists, by the acclaimed author of The Trip to Echo Spring.

When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her midthirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by the most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to David Wojnarowicz's AIDS activism, Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.

Humane, provocative, and moving, The Lonely City is a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism

#1 Book of the Year from Brain Pickings

Named a best book of the year by NPR, Newsweek, Slate, Pop Sugar, Marie Claire, Elle, Publishers Weekly, and Lit Hub

A dazzling work of biography, memoir, and cultural criticism on the subject of loneliness, told through the lives of iconic artists, by the acclaimed author of The Trip to Echo Spring.

When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her midthirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by the most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to David Wojnarowicz's AIDS activism, Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.

Humane, provocative, and moving, The Lonely City is a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. Her first book, To the River, was published by Canongate to wide acclaim and shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year. She has been the deputy books editor of the Observer, and writes for The Guardian, New Statesman, and The Times Literary Supplement, among other publications. She is a MacDowell Fellow, and has received grants from the Arts Council and the Authors' Foundation. She lives in Cambridge, England.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 1, 2016
    The lonely city of the title is teeming with painters, filmmakers, writers, and thinkers. In her new book, Laing (The Trip to Echo Spring) creates a “map of loneliness,” tracking its often-paradoxical contours in her own life as a transplant to New York City and traces how loneliness can inspire creativity. The central figures of the book—Henry Darger, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and David Wojnarowicz—were all “hyper-alert to the gulfs between people, to how it can feel to be islanded amid a crowd.” By focusing on four artists (others, like Billie Holiday, also make appearances), Laing’s writing becomes expansive, exploring their biographies, sharing art analysis, and weaving in observations from periods of desolation that was at times “cold as ice and clear as glass.” She invents new ways to consider how isolation plays into art or even the Internet (which turns her into an obsessed teenager, albeit one who calls the screen her “cathected silver lover”). For once, loneliness becomes a place worth lingering.

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2016
    A British journalist and cultural critic investigates how loneliness shapes art. When she first came to Manhattan, in her 30s, Laing (The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, 2013, etc.) found her loneliness intensified by living in the city, surrounded by millions of people. Loneliness, writes the author in this absorbing melding of memoir, biography, art essay, and philosophical meditation, "doesn't necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as is desired." Her own inability to connect was caused partly by her "anxieties around appearance, about being found insufficiently desirable," and her discomfort with "the gender box to which I'd been assigned." Laing's mother had been a closeted gay woman until she was outed in the 1980s; her mother's partner was an alcoholic; and Laing grew up witnessing "chaotic and frightening scenes" and "coping with a simmering sense of fear and rage." The artists she features emerged from their own sources of pain, which fueled both a sense of isolation and a "hypervigilance for social threat," which causes the lonely person to grow increasingly "suspicious and withdrawn." Drawing on biographies, interviews, oral histories, and archival material, Laing sensitively explores the lives and works of artists such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger, and Klaus Nomi. Hopper's urban scenes, writes Laing, evoke "the way a feeling of separation, of being walled off or penned in, combines with a sense of near-unbearable exposure." Wojnarowicz's paintings, installations, photography, films, and performances focus "on how an individual can survive within an antagonistic society." Outsider artist Darger, a Chicago janitor, produced over 300 paintings, many disturbingly violent. His art "served as lightning rods for other people's fears and fantasies about isolation, its potentially pathological aspect." Although art may be generated by loneliness, writes Laing in this illuminating, enriching book, it has a significant "capacity to create intimacy."

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 15, 2015

    Laing opened her book career in 2014 with The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, which was short-listed for the Ondaatje Prize and won front-page coverage in the New York Times Book Review. Her new book considers the concept of "aloneness" from the perspective of key artists, focusing on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, and David Wojnarowicz and touching on luminaries from Alfred Hitchcock to Nan Goldin to Billie Holiday. Is this cool, or what?

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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