Sara Maitland - How to be Alone (3 stars)

Alain De Botton - The News: A User’s Manual

Outlines first steps to enjoying solitude


‘Loner' has become a dirty word, serving as polite code for loser, weirdo and even potential serial killer (‘I'm not surprised they found all those bones in his back garden, he was always a loner … ’). But at the same time, we revere the solitary genius, the hermit, the artist musing in a garret. This is why the first step to enjoying solitude, says Sara Maitland, is to let go of stereotypes and accept that, to some extent, we all need time alone.

Like many self-help books, How to be Alone initially focuses less on the how and more on the why. Although an uncomfortable idea to accept, it's hard to argue with Maitland's point that perhaps we fear solitude because we don't want to know how empty our heads really are. More encouragingly, she points out that while we may initially fear time alone, it certainly won't do us any harm – and will probably do us good. Whether you're looking for some quiet in a busy life or trying to deal with solitude due to break-up or bereavement, this is a good place to start.

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