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Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (2012)

by Eric Klinenberg

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3431666,674 (3.37)17
Renowned sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg explores the dramatic rise of solo living and examines the seismic impact it's having on our culture, business, and politics.

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The subtitle of this book, “the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone” points out a number of issues considered within — namely, the unprecedented increase in solo living arrangement, and the fact that its appeal is considered unusual. The text is richly cited, ranging from classic literature and essays to contemporary academic studies and primary research. Having read extensively on a number of topics covered herein, such as the emerging adulthood generation, the decline of marriage, the increase in highly educated single women living independently, the isolating effects of the Internet, and the emphasis on individuality, I found much of this book to be repetitive, at least for my own purposes. However, it is a very interesting slant to examining these issues all together. As someone who is living on her own for the first time in twenty-some-odd years (with family for the first couple decades, and then with a plethora of good and not-so-good roomies thereafter), I very much understand the appeal of living alone and the sentiments of those who promote the lifestyle. At the same time, I believe very strongly in the importance of community and interpersonal relationships, and the author of this book addresses that as well. I found this to be an interesting and worthwhile read ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
When Klininberg investigated a wave of heat-related deaths in Chicago, he discovered the majority of them had some sad facts in common: most were men, living alone, without social networks or families to check in on them. One might expect, then, that his book on the exponential increase in single-person households would be dark and depressing. Not a bit of it: while he doesn't shy away from the trend's darker potentials, like the above-mentioned isolated elderly men with no one to comfort them in their last illnesses, he also spends a great deal of space discussing the upsides and enormous positives that have brought us to where we are.

Like: single-person households are more common in wealthier and developed societies, and in societies transitioning to an industrialized or developed model, single-person households quickly increase and approach western levels--so the most basic explanation for this change is that we can afford it. Maybe people will choose to live alone whenever they have the resources to do so.

Like: single-person households are often more engaged, socially and civically, than the vaunted nuclear family, where mom and dad are far too busy and stressed by raising children to turn their attention outwards to the wider society.

Like: in a world of hyper-connected individuals, through social networking and career, many of us choose to live alone to give us some/any solitude and a space to recharge.

Like: while we like to blame western individualism and our disintegrating collective instincts for thsi trend here in North America, in fact the most collective developed nations in the world (aka Scandinavia) also have the highest rate of single-person households, near or over 60%.

As a member of the grey spaces between the traditional nuclear family and the single-person household he writes about (I am a single mom with primary custody of my daughter, so for a few days each week I live here by myself--and the rest of the time I run myself ragged being both mom and dad), I can see what he speaks of in my own life. When my daughter is with me, I indeed have no or little time for friends or activism, and also don't need to grapple with the loneliness that can make single-household living difficult for those without extensive social networks. When she's not here, I get to enjoy that space and solitude, recharge and connect with friends and work on causes dear to me, but I also feel like I accidentally forgot my left arm somewhere.

The book did give me much hope that this rise in single-person households may hold great potential for our societies, more than enough to offset the downsides typically discussed--and that, like it or not, it's here to stay, so maybe we should stop building cities and suburbs primarily for nuclear families.

Good book. Worth a read whether or not you live alone. ( )
  andrea_mcd | Mar 10, 2020 |
An interesting book about people who live alone by choice or not and why. They range from the elderly to young people. It was an interesting look at a rising phenomenon and has been on my to-read list for a while.

The author can occasionally get repetitive and doesn't do much to dress up the stats and drier parts of the book. But it was compelling to read why people choose to live alone--in terms of keeping drama out of their lives, enjoying space, not wanting to be tied down, forced to via divorce/children moving out/death of a spouse, etc. On occasion the book can get quite sad: some people who choose to live alone and apparently have no close ties, either by family or friends or their community. One of the most interesting aspects for me was reading about the death of one woman who lived alone and had no close family. An investigator is assigned to figure out who is the closest living relative to deal with the deceased's estate.

It also can hit nerves in some places: some people are bitter over divorces, don't want to marry so as not to care for an aging spouse, they had a long-term relationship that ended badly. Or by the changes of their city around them, their friends die off or move away, and the children who once grew up there move on and out.

Yet a lot of people seem to relish living alone, despite the possible negatives. The ability to come and go and to have one's own space without having to answer to anyone. Being alone forced some in the book to go out and interact with the community, strengthening their ties. Others "found" themselves when they didn't have to be in a relationship or deal with other people.

I'd say the book seems to focus more on the dark side of living alone, despite discussing the appeal of it on the cover. Maybe it just stuck with me more. Overall I'd say it's worth a read if you have any interest in this at all. ( )
  HoldMyBook | Feb 11, 2018 |
There was a time -- say, about 1950 -- when the vast majority of adults in America were married, and almost nobody lived alone. Today, that's no longer remotely true: half of American adults are unmarried and adults living on their own, for any of a number of reasons, have become common and unremarkable, in the US as well as in many other countries. Eric Klinenberg, who has done some research on the subject, talks about this demographic shift, the reasons for it, how people who live alone feel about it, and what the challenges and benefits of single life are.

As an adult who lives alone and fully intends to continue doing so as long as physically possible, this book is definitely relevant for me, and there is a lot of thoughtful and interesting stuff in it, but, well... I couldn't help finding it it a little disappointing. I think there are several reasons for that. One is the narrowness of its focus: it's almost entirely about people living alone in big cities, with occasional brief mentions of the suburbs. People like me who live alone in small towns might as well not even exist in this narrative, and our concerns and experiences aren't even acknowledged, let alone addressed. Klinenberg says in an appendix that this is because his research simply didn't cover anything outside a few big cities, so he couldn't talk about it, but that seems like a really big gap in a book that purports to be about living alone as a general phenomenon. And he seemed to have no problems discussing the lives of people in Sweden.

Another issue is that while Klinenberg specifically says that he wants to provide a counterpoint to conventional doom-and-gloom narratives about how our society is fracturing and we're all becoming disconnected from each other, he ends up sounding surprisingly negative a lot of the time, anyway. His conclusions, ultimately, are balanced, optimistic, and focused on practical ways of adjusting society to its new status quo rather than standing around lamenting about it, and that's great. But along the way, he often makes things sound sadder than I think he realizes. And in his discussion on how these social changes have happened, complete with repeated invocations of the ugly, judgemental-sounding phrase "the cult of the individual," he makes the whole thing sound so self-absorbed and socially unhealthy that he actually had me thinking, "Geez, suddenly I actually kind of understand all those folks who wail about the breakdown of the nuclear family as if it's heralding the collapse of society!" Which I don't think was the idea at all.

Much more irritating than that, though, were some chapters towards the beginning whose style and structure were just kind of... poor. Later in the book, when he settles down to focusing on specific issues (such as the difficulties faced by elderly people living alone) or offering us longish profiles of specific people (such as the editor of a magazine aimed at singles), the writing is fine. Not particularly lively, but fine. But he really seems to have had trouble with certain earlier sections, in which he does a lot of reciting blocks of dry statistics or bits of historical context, then switching abruptly to a quote from one of the ordinary people he's interviewed in his research. These quotes are somewhat repetitive, not always incredibly relevant to the material around them, and often feel shoehorned in. Worse, he keeps introducing them in these incredibly awkward ways: throwing out random, irrelevant information about the person he's quoting, in a way that gives the impression that he's doing it solely because someone told him that's the correct formula for providing human interest. You know, what kind of clothes they wear, what shape their nose is, that sort of thing. This might be merely mildly annoying, until you notice that while he might just note the jobs or personalities of the men, every single woman gets introduced with some note about her appearance, usually with a direct or implied comment on her attractiveness. Just... grrr. Writers! Do. Not. Do. This. Just... don't.

Okay. After all that, I have to say, honestly, this is not a bad book. It's really not. It's got some interesting and worthwhile things to say, and I'm not sorry I read it, nor do I recommend that people interested in the subject steer clear of it. But, sadly, it's not quite the book I was hoping it would be, either. ( )
1 vote bragan | Dec 1, 2016 |
As someone who has chosen to live alone since I graduated college, I was very interested to read this book, especially as it is a subject I had not seen written about in depth before.

Klinenberg has clearly done his research, both by reading studies and going out to talk to people from around the world. This means he is able to present a well-rounded argument that the uprise in people living alone does not mean society as we know it is crumbling. Rather, it is a positive that needs to be well-supported so as to remain a positive.

Looking at everything from the impact of social media on the sense of community, to which countries support their "singletons" best in terms of housing, Klinenberg deftly explains how this is a trend that is not going away, and that it is the world at large who needs to adjust. ( )
1 vote seasonsoflove | Feb 17, 2016 |
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Renowned sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg explores the dramatic rise of solo living and examines the seismic impact it's having on our culture, business, and politics.

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