Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Wednesday Special: A Few Words on Loneliness


562px-Ted_2-custom-effect-autolevels-100-size-350-420-1“We value our solitude until it pinches,” writes Edward Hoagland in the spring issue of The American Scholar magazine.  His essay “On Loneliness” ruminates on the ways we choose – and need – to live both in community and in solitude.

A few things he said really got my attention:

“We sculpt our lives in a free country, and our faces often show it:  waffler, proud parent, hangdog cynic, quiet teacher, or self-crafted big shot.  Pharmaceuticals can’t do much for loneliness except blur it – it’s too primal – which is why music, animals, or a green thumb can help, being linked to eternity.  (Music’s affinity to our heart’s own beat gives it a leg up on literature.)  People either feed the pigeons or they don’t, rejoice in watching other families’ childen play or not, and it molds their faces over time.  Pep and panache win kudos at any age, but integrity, which can turn prickly, often must solace itself.  How does your integrity benefit me? we ask.”

Questions for reflection or conversation:

Do you think our faces reflect our choices?

Also – does music really have a leg up on literature when you’re feeling lonely – or a need for solitude?  I’m still thinking about that.  Have you ever heard the Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom?  Another good one is Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt n Pepa.  I bet you haven’t heard that in a while.  Go to the link… I’m not kidding, you will be singing along LOUDLY even against your own will.  These songs make you feel glad to be alive and part of creation though there is some darkness in each.  Does music really beat reading, though?  It’s hard to think of anything better than a long soak in a hot bath with The Goldfinch or Billy Collins’ poetry or whatever you love.

And finally – is integrity possible without solitude?  Or is even a “prickly” integrity intimately linked to community?

I’ve not read anything else by Edward Hoagland, but I believe I will.  Born in 1932 and known for his nature and travel writing, he’s been called “the best essayist of my generation” by John Updike and “our Chopin of the genre” by Joyce Carol Oates.  He joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1951 before attending Harvard.  His most recent novel is Children Are Diamonds:  An African Apocalypse, about the war in Sudan.

I’ll give the last words to Hoagland, who does strike me as quite a fellow:  “The very word lonesome contains some hope in its caboose.”


  1. Provocative questions, Jennifer! For me personally, music often has the leg up on literature to beat loneliness but it is a great debate. Thanks for the post ~ Anne

  2. It’s a fun question, isn’t it?! Thank goodness we don’t have to choose one or the other. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Anne!

  3. The green thumb reminds of how the characters coped in The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama… gardening is a good way to be alone and wear yourself out. For music, I love The Black Eyed Peas singing “I Gotta Feeling” !!

    • Black Eyed Peas out me in a great mood! Gardening not so much but I understand it is very rewarding to many!! Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. So enjoyed your post today! I will be chewing on the question all day Music vs Literature

  5. Wow, some profound questions here! I have to say, I absolutely have to come down on the side of books vs music. I love music, I love to play music, but when everybody is out of the house in the morning and it turns quiet and there is even the slightest potential for loneliness (not that I’ve ever felt that), then a book is the first thing I turn to, not music. I like it to be quiet. If you’re making me choose, I’ll pick books every single time (come to think of it, this is what I told my husband re the topic of “you read too much”:-)

  6. It’s funny, Sine, the more I have thought about it – the more I have to come down on the side of books as well. Strangely, I think it sometimes makes me feel a little lonelier to listen to music if I’m not with other people. Thank you so much for your comment!

    • I love when a simple blog post keeps me thinking for days and yours did that! I agree, music makes me want to dance and sing and be with other people, whereas books are more private. They can best be enjoyed all by yourself, which is why I enjoy being all by myself so much:)

  7. Me too! I have to fight hermit tendencies. 🙂 So glad you enjoyed post.

  8. Pingback: Wednesday Wormhole | My Mind is Leaking

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