The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone – Olivia Laing

Image Credits: Canongate Books Ltd.

“I don’t believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it’s about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted.”

I think I have previously expressed the thought that certain books find you at the right time, when reading them takes on a particular significance. This definitely happened in the case of “The Lonely City”; I bought the book in March 2016, a few days after its release, and amidst the various events of the years to come, which were not easy for so many reasons (pandemic included), I forgot about it for a while, partly because I already had a long stack of previously purchased books to read. The book followed me through various house moves and it was only last month that I happened to see it on my shelf and decided to read it.

The Lonely City takes on a completely different meaning in the aftermath of the pandemic, where we have all experienced loneliness on different levels due to forced isolation. It is precisely after the pandemic that the need to escape from loneliness has increased; predominantly taking on a negative connotation, loneliness is fought against in various ways (also thanks to new technologies and social media, which, however, also have dark sides and often make one feel even more lonely), instead of being seen as a natural condition that can be inspiring and allow human beings to develop their talents and personalities. This is precisely what Olivia Laing’s book is about: the British writer recalls her time living in New York, alone in the city that never sleeps; since she was raised by a homosexual mother, Laing’s personal story influences the text, and the author recounts how the visual arts mitigated her loneliness. In her memoir, she analyzes the lives of a number of LGBT artists, especially the ones that were part of New York’s East Village artistic scene. The account of these artists’ lives intersects with the writer’s personal story, focusing on loneliness in the city.


A Look Back At Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (And Its Movie Adaptations)

Little Women – Book covers. Image Credits: Penguin Books

In my Five Books To Read During The Holiday Season article I have mentioned Little Women, one of the most beloved classics of all time written by Louisa May Alcott and originally published in two volumes (1868-1869).

I first read this novel when I was about ten years old because my mom gifted me a collection of literary classics that included Little Women and its sequel, Little Men. Since I was born and raised in Italy, my first copy was an Italian edition which I still own, even though it now shows many signs of wear and tear because I have read it multiple times over the years. A few years ago I also bought a beautiful American edition which is part of the Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics and I have already read it twice since then.

What is it about Little Women that has made the book so precious for so many different generations over the decades? Probably this is also due to the fact that it was one of the first books to focus on female characters; it seems that men are more like supporting characters in the lives of the female protagonists, and, even though it is narrated in the third person, the book tends to tell the events mainly from the point of view of the March sisters.

The March sisters – Little Women (2019). Image Credits: Sony Pictures Entertainment

The story is set in the 1860s and begins during the American Civil War; Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March live in the small town of Concord, Massachusetts (where Louisa May Alcott also wrote the book), and the first chapter introduces the sisters who are preparing to face a Christmas of hardships because of the war, with many concerns due to the fact that their father serves as chaplain for the Union Army. The March sisters have very distinct personalities but are united by the deep affection they feel for each other; Meg, the eldest (she is sixteen when the story begins), is very rational and feels responsible to the other sisters. Together with Jo, she works to support them all; while she is employed as a governess by a family in the neighborhood, Jo assists her wealthy aunt March, who lives alone in a mansion. Jo is stubborn and very outspoken; she loves writing stories, some of which will be published by local newspapers to provide financial support for the family.


Murder On The Orient Express

Image Credits: Harper UK

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

During the course of last summer I read my second Agatha Christie book and I really enjoyed it; Death On The Nile is a great mystery novel and I have also reviewed it on the blog. While I really appreciated the twists and the setting, reading Murder On The Orient Express, my third Agatha Christie book, has been an even better experience, since I was already familiar with the character of Hercule Poirot and the writer’s style.

To me, this book confirmed Agatha Christie’s genius in building the plot and creating the right amount of suspense in the process of solving the case. I am very fascinated by the fact that, even though this novel was published in 1934, it feels very modern and the language used by Christie makes you feel like you were reading a modern novel, as if it were set in present times.

The book takes place aboard the Orient Express, a train that used to connect the Middle East to Europe in the first decades of the 20th century. The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling from Istanbul to London by train, along with a series of passengers that make for very interesting characters; they come from all different places and each of them has their secrets and peculiar traits. When a murder occurs, Poirot and the other passengers find themselves stuck on the train while traveling through Yugoslavia due to a heavy snowfall and it is very likely that the murderer is still on board.

As Poirot begins to investigate the murder, which immediately appears to be related to a crime case in the USA that occurred a few years before the events in the book, the passengers are being interrogated by the detective, and it is clear from the outset that most of them have something to hide… During this investigation, Poirot is accompanied by Monsieur Bouc, his old friend and director of the Wagon Lits; while Bouc immediately jumps to conclusions about who the perpetrator of the murder might be, Poirot prefers to wait until he is well informed about the facts before expressing an opinion on the matter.


Revisiting The Baby-Sitters Club Series By Ann M. Martin 20 Years Later

Italian editions of The Baby-Sitters Club book series

A few days ago I watched the second and final season of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix and it brought to mind so many different moments from the book series it is based on. Watching the show was very emotional for me, since I grew up with these books. I own plenty of them and, along with the Goosebumps series, they remind me of my childhood, when I would consider them as friends because they kept me company on many afternoons, as I would immediately pick up a book to read after finishing my homework. The Netflix show brought me to reread a few of the books from the Baby-sitters Club series and it felt very nostalgic because they meant a lot to me when I was a kid.

The story follows four middle school girls who decide to found a Baby-Sitters Club; Kristy, one of the girls, comes up with this idea after she witnesses her mother struggling to find a baby-sitter when Kristy and her older brothers are too busy to take care of their little brother. Kristy thinks: “Wouldn’t it be great if a person in need of a baby-sitter for their kids could easily find one by calling an organization that provides baby-sitting services?” She pitches the idea to her friends Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey and they go on to establish a successful club, attracting many customers in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, and holding club reunions three times a week in Claudia’s room. The book series is very educational and it is one of the smartest and most innovative example of entrepreneurship for pre-teens I have ever read about; everything regarding the club is organized down to the smallest detail and each of the girls plays a specific role, like people in a work team or a company. Aside from Kristy, who is the president and founder of the club, Claudia is the vice-president and she provides the phone line at which clients contact babysitters. Mary Anne is the secretary and keeps track of all the client appointments and personal commitments. Stacey is the treasurer and, being very good at math, she is in charge of club funds and collects dues. During the course of the series, other people join the club, such as Dawn, who befriends Mary Anne at school after moving from California, junior members Mallory and Jessica, who are a couple of years younger than the other girls, and two other associate members, Shannon and Logan, who are respectively Kristy’s new neighbor and Mary Anne’s boyfriend; they substitute the girls as babysitters when none of them are available.

Not only does the book series recount the misadventures of the characters during their baby-sitting jobs, but also it deals with the typical daily challenges that pre-teens have to face; first love, fights and misunderstandings between friends (the babysitters themselves have several confrontations throughout the series, sometimes even funny ones), school issues and disagreements with parents. Moreover, The Baby-Sitters Club is a series that can touch on significant and profound issues, introducing and explaining them to young readers in the right way; an entire book is often devoted to a particular topic, like when Claudia becomes convinced that she is an adopted child and starts researching to find out who her real parents are. I recently reread this book and it is strange to see how a little girl was still able to find information in an era when there was no Internet (the BSC books were published between 1986 and 2000 and sold about 176 million copies; Ann M. Martin wrote the first 35 books in the series but later they were written by different ghostwriters).