The best books about loneliness

6 authors have picked their favorite books about loneliness and why they recommend each book.

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A Book of Silence

By Sara Maitland,

Book cover of A Book of Silence

Of all the destinations we can and do explore during our lives, our internal landscape is the most intimate. Without silence, how do we begin to know ourselves, and to see ourselves for who we really are? Sara Maitland moved from being a chatterer to “a silence hunter,” seeking out spaces where she could live alone and savour silent solitude. Her book explores histories and landscapes of silence, from contemplatives to explorers. She nails the difference between bad silence (the kind most of us are terrified of) and the spaciousness of prolonged silence that, eventually, becomes a state of bliss. Don’t be put off by the apparent seriousness of this subject: Sara might be a religious reclusive, but she writes in accessible prose that, ironically, induces the sense you could almost be having a drink together. It’s a brilliant book.

Who am I?

Louisa Waugh is a writer, blogger, and the prize-winning author of three non-fiction books: Hearing Birds Fly, Selling Olga, and Meet Me in Gaza. She has lived and worked in the Middle East, Central and West Africa, and is a conflict adviser for an international peace-building organisation. She blogs at The Waugh Zone and currently lives in Brighton, on the southern English coast, where she kayaks and drinks red wine on the beach, usually not at the same time.

I wrote...

Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia

By Louisa Waugh,

Book cover of Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia

What is my book about?

I went to live in Mongolia because I had always wanted to see the country, and had time on my hands. I lived in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for two years, then moved to a remote village in the Western Mountains to live in a village called Tsengel. I wanted to experience the intimate life of Mongolian nomads and their relationship with the heart-stopping seasons that have created the extraordinary landscape in which they live and die. My book is a portrait of a small community amidst the mountains that shape them culturally, religiously, and socially. And I had my own heart-stopping moments of fear, and joy, amongst these tough mountain people.

Hope Farm

By Peggy Frew,

Book cover of Hope Farm

Hope Farm moved me so much because it conveys the bitter-sweetness of being thirteen, being privy to adults who make terrible choices, and having to adapt to the consequences of those choices. It is about parents who join cults (in this case, a hippy one) and the effects of this on their children. Peggy Frew has such a seductive and captivating way of engrossing the reader in the story through her stunning prose.  

Who am I?

My parents survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the aftermath of the Vietnam War, so their love for us was always tinged with anxiety, fear, and a large deal of paranoia and control. All of my books are about the complex relationship between parents and their children, and the things we knowingly or unknowingly pass down. I’ve also worked a number of years as a university student counsellor, where the same enduring themes play out in my students’ experiences. So naturally, I am drawn to stories that explore difficult but loving family dynamics. 

I wrote...

One Hundred Days

By Alice Pung,

Book cover of One Hundred Days

What is my book about?

In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust, and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-story housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world – and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble.

One Hundred Days is a fractured fairytale exploring the faultlines between love and control. At times tense and claustrophobic, it is nevertheless brimming with humour, warmth, and character. 

The Pencil

By Allan Ahlberg, Bruce Ingman (illustrator),

Book cover of The Pencil

This witty, quirky, ever-escalating modern classic celebrates burgeoning creativity and rubs out the criticism of others and our own self-doubt! A joyous squiggle of a story with the eponymous Pencil as a hero. How often does our own creativity – especially when we are little – begin with a single pencil line?

Who am I?

As a children’s writer I have to draw on my own creativity, celebrate my own ideas and quash self-doubt every time I work on a story. I teach creative writing, run workshops, and visit schools regularly – above all, I want to instill courage and the love of bold imagination in children. Picture book age children have such fantastic creativity and joyous wonder at the world around them. How wonderful to see that creative energy reflected back in a story which will hopefully spark more journeys into wonderful invented places, spaces, pictures, and tales. Imagination has brought me such great joy, I hope I can pass a spark of that onwards...

I wrote...

Calm Down, Zebra

By Lou Kuenzler, Julia Woolf (illustrator),

Book cover of Calm Down, Zebra

What is my book about?

Gorgeously illustrated with extra shimmer and shine, Calm Down, Zebra explores artistic self-expression in a bright, bold and free-thinking way. Through funny rhyming text, the picture book story aims to inspire creativity and an appreciation of colour in every young artist. Enthusiastic Zebra is eager to get in on the act as Annie tries to teach her little brother about colours. But although things don't turn out quite the way she imagines, together they make the world a brighter and more beautiful place!

"A joy to read aloud . . . guaranteed to win the hearts of all little mischief-makers." - Lancashire Post

The Lonely City

By Olivia Laing,

Book cover of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

I actually forgot the title of this essay collection and for the longest time I was kicking myself, truly beating my head against a wall trying to remember what it was. Thanks to this feature, I was able to! Olivia Laing is amazing in her ability to tap into vulnerabilities with an uncanny sense of ease and in The Lonely City, she focuses on urban isolation and loneliness, something to which most creatives living in a big city can relate. After reading this one, you’ll walk a city block looking not at what the streets have in store for you but rather what might be existing behind closed doors, invisible to you but all too real to those trapped in those spaces.

Who am I?

I respond to the darkness and the darkness responds to me. Before writing anything creative, I was studying to be a sociologist. I didn’t get there but all those peculiarities that criminology, deviant behavior, and symbolic interactionism (don’t get me started on Foucault or else we’ll be here all day) stuck with me. I won’t say I don’t care about characters but I’m more interested in stories that examine a character in relation to their status and situation within society. So yeah, lots of poverty, loneliness, and identity issues.

I wrote...

Anybody Home?

By Michael J. Seidlinger,

Book cover of Anybody Home?

What is my book about?

A seasoned invader with multiple home invasions under their belt recounts their dark victories while offering tutelage to a new generation of ambitious home invaders eager to make their mark on the annals of criminal history. From initial canvasing to home entry, the reader is complicit in every strangling and shattered window. The fear is inescapable.

Examining the sanctuary of the home and one of the horror genre’s most frightening tropes, Anybody Home? points the camera lens onto the quiet suburbs and its unsuspecting abodes, any of which are potential stages for an invader ambitious enough to make it the scene of the next big crime sensation. Who knows? Their performance just might make it to the silver screen.

Walden and Civil Disobedience

By Henry David Thoreau,

Book cover of Walden and Civil Disobedience

Another profound critique of “civilized” values. Thoreau is like Plato in that he always drills down to bedrock truth: What is it that makes for a good life? Individually and collectively? Be prepared for longueurs. Those who want a pithier critique along more contemporary lines might enjoy the works of the late Ivan Illich, especially Tools for Conviviality.

Who am I?

William Ophuls served as a Foreign Service Officer in Washington, Abidjan, and Tokyo before receiving a PhD in political science from Yale University in 1973. His Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity published in 1977 laid bare the ecological, social, and political challenges confronting modern industrial civilization. It was honored by the Kammerer and Sprout awards. After teaching briefly at Northwestern University, he became an independent scholar and author. He has since published a number of works extending and deepening his original argument, most prominently Requiem for Modern Politics in 1997, Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology in 2011, and Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail in 2013.

I wrote...

Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

By William Ophuls,

Book cover of Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

What is my book about?

We are embarked on an industrial Titanic running on fossil fuels that have caused a climate crisis, soon to become a civilizational crisis. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and fueling the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and implacable geological and biological limits that have already begun to bite. Thus we are headed for a post-industrial future that will resemble the pre-industrial past in many respects.

I argue for an essentially Platonic politics of consciousness dedicated to inner cultivation rather than the external pursuit of perpetual growth. We might then achieve a way of life that is materially and institutionally simple, but culturally and spiritually rich.

Little Brown

By Marla Frazee,

Book cover of Little Brown

Little Brown is not the type of book on friendship I originally intended to include. The main character is sad and friendless, and that doesn’t really change by the end of the book. But it raises deeply moving questions about the nature of relationships and connection. For older picture book age children beginning to confront bullying and misunderstanding in school settings, it may lead to thought-provoking and important questions.

Who am I?

I expect that the folks at approached me as a picture book author, since I’m the author of eleven picture books, including the four books of the Vampirina Ballerina series, which were adapted into the Disney Junior hit series Vampirina. But my thoughts and ideas about friendship and community really stem from once having been a child myself and from being a parent of four children, each of whom approached the roller coaster ride of childhood friendship in their unique ways. I was always happy to help them find answers in a book, even when those answers involved more, and deeper, questions.

I wrote...

Groundhug Day

By Anne Marie Pace,

Book cover of Groundhug Day

What is my book about?

Starring a cast of lovable forest animals, Groundhug Day is ostensibly a book about late winter and spring holidays, but more deeply, it’s about friendship. If we value our friends, we take time to appreciate the ways in which we are all different from one another. Instead of dismissing Groundhog because he is afraid of shadows, the friends learn to work with him to help him conquer his fears. And while Porcupine’s quills make it difficult to hug him, the friends find other ways to express affection.

Groundhug Day may start out being about a Valentine's Day Party, but in the end, it’s really a celebration of community.

The Road to Winter

By Mark Smith,

Book cover of The Road to Winter

Such a pleasure to find the Winter series, because Australian apocalyptic stories are few and far between. Set on the surf coast of Victoria, this book revels in the pristine scenery and the majesty of the ocean. You can almost smell the salt in the air.

Courageous and determined, teenager Finn lives alone with his patient dog Rowdy. Finn appreciates the harsh beauty of what’s left after the disaster, but he’s not blind to the awful injustices that flood in after the rule of law disappears. Finn shows an extraordinary capacity for love and care for the people around him, as well as the few who escape the clutches of new slavery. Rowdy – despite his name – is the quiet rock that gives Finn heart, and he’s never more or less than a dog. Which is wonderful.

Who am I?

The first book I read on my own was the Little Golden Book of Puppies and Kittens. I decided then, aged three, that the best books have animals in them…and I haven’t changed my mind. While fantasy novels with animals are among my all-time favorites, I’ve developed a deep love for dystopian novels which leave room for hope. I especially love the stories that show more than just humans living on Planet Earth. What better species to represent all that’s good on Earth but dogs? I can’t imagine ever writing a story without a dog in it. 

I wrote...

The Pale

By Clare Rhoden,

Book cover of The Pale

What is my book about?

Mashtuk and his partner Zélie are canini: genetically modified wolf-dogs with language and compassion. In a world destroyed by the Great Cataclysm, bionic humachines live safely inside the Pale, while other creatures struggle to stay alive in the Outside.

The rest of humanity also lives Outside. Another aftershock throws the whole land into chaos, and Hector – a human boy – is adopted by one of the humachines. All the careful systems inside the Pale begin to collapse, and its technological domination teeters in the face of real mortals with heart and soul.

The Surrender Experiment

By Michael A. Singer,

Book cover of The Surrender Experiment: My Journey Into Life's Perfection

What I love about Michael A. Singer’s The Surrender Experiment is that it really shows us just how much life is serving up for us, every single day. In fact - that’s how I discovered it in the first place! A friend recommended one of Michael’s other books to me (The Untethered Soul) but I mistakenly read this instead. 

Michael is a professor turned spiritual teacher and author. The Surrender Experiment is all about his journey, having made the commitment to simply trust in the flow of life. He chronicles how he created the framework within his life to live this way, what unfolded for him as a result, and the beauty of it all. 

The reason why I recommend this book as being complementary to Stepping Beyond Intention and for anyone looking for guidance in personal development is that it opens your eyes up to just how…

Who am I?

Having brought myself back from the brink more than once, finally building a lasting, abundant life for myself; I know what it takes and I know how easy it is to lose your way. I am extremely passionate about helping others avoid the pitfalls, break through the self-imposed barriers and find their own version of abundance. It’s not just about money, though that’s certainly a component for a lot of people. It’s about bringing awareness to what your dream life actually looks like, getting precise about it, and then clearing you a path that leads inexorably towards it. I have walked that path myself and now, I want to help you do the same. 

I wrote...

Stepping Beyond Intention

By Daniel Mangena,

Book cover of Stepping Beyond Intention

What is my book about?

Stepping Beyond Intention is a best-selling guide to help you break through your mental blocks and take action. If you have dreams, goals, or aspirations but just can’t seem to get them off the ground: this will give you the tools to do so. 

Mixing the more esoteric elements of self-help with real, practical, and easy-to-follow steps: Stepping Beyond Intention is a strong transformational tool. This is about unlocking your own, unique power - not forcing a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that doesn’t fit with you. Use this powerful four-step model to rediscover your true path. Let Stepping Beyond Intention help you to consciously choose a more abundant, joyful, and purpose-driven life. 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

By Iain Reid,

Book cover of I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Before it was a Netflix movie (psst! The book is way better), this slim little book creeped me the hell out. It’s a simple premise: A woman is driving with her boyfriend to meet his parents for the first time, only she’s not really sure the relationship is going to work out. However, this psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning—only you won’t know why until the very end. I’m shivering just thinking about it.

Who am I?

I was born on Halloween, so I’m officially a card-carrying member of all things creepy, right? However, I’m definitely drawn to books with mood and atmosphere over outright horror and gore. I find the subtle aspects of fear so much more interesting—how is it that one person’s reality can be so different than another’s? I write domestic suspense because I think the people we are closest to and the places we think are safest are often the ones that can hurt us the most. Where a story takes place is so very important. I need to know the geography, the feel, the history of a place—then I can put people in it and make bad things happen.

I wrote...

One Night Gone

By Tara Laskowski,

Book cover of One Night Gone

What is my book about?

One sultry summer, Maureen Haddaway arrives in the wealthy town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. There, she finds herself lured by the promise of friendship, love, starry skies, and wild parties. But Maureen’s new life just might be too good to be true, and before the summer is up, she vanishes.

Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach during the off-season, it seems like the perfect chance to begin fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a girl thirty years before, Allison realizes the gorgeous homes of Opal Beach hide dark secrets. And the truth of that long-ago summer is not even the most shocking part of all…

Boot & Shoe

By Marla Frazee,

Book cover of Boot & Shoe

Boot and Shoe are siblings and best pals. They live together in the same house and do everything together, but they are each in charge of opposite porches: Boot can be found guarding the back porch, while Shoe takes care of the front porch. Until one day, when a squirrel ran amok around their house and turned everything upside down. Now, where is Boot? And where is Shoe? And can they find each other again? You can’t help but be fully invested in these two adorable doggie characters. 

Who am I?

I am a librarian and a picture book author/illustrator – it’s a perfect combination as I get to spend lots of time around books. I’m also a huge animal lover, with a special fondness for dogs. I can’t resist a picture book about dogs, and it’s no surprise that my first picture book was based on a true story about one very brave little dog. It is not easy to recommend only 5 books, but these are certainly my top favorites both in text and art. Happy reading!

I wrote...

Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic

By Mônica Carnesi,

Book cover of Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic

What is my book about?

On a cold winter day, a curious dog wandered onto a frozen river, and before he knew it he was traveling fast on a sheet of ice. Many people tried to help, but the dog could not be reached. Finally, after two nights and seventy-five miles, the little dog was saved by a ship out in the Baltic Sea.

The gallant rescue of the little dog nicknamed Baltic made international news. Mônica Carnesi's simple text and charming watercolor illustrations convey all the drama of Baltic's journey. His story, with its happy ending, will warm readers' hearts. An author's note and map are included.

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