New York Times travel writer Stephanie Rosenbloom has had plenty of enviable assignments, but one of the most revelatory was a five-day solo trip to Paris. After she had been back for a while, she said, “I missed who I was in Paris.” That person was “curious, improvisational, open to serendipity.”
She longed to return, again on her own. Her goal, she said, “wasn’t to master Paris. It was to master myself: to learn how a little alone time can change your life — in any city.” She did go back to Paris. She also traveled solo to Istanbul and Florence. Back in her home town of New York City, she decided to explore Manhattan the way she had explored the other cities — as a tourist on her own, walking the city.
The result is Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude. With beautifully evocative renderings, Rosenbloom takes us along as she visits shops and museums, gardens, and a Turkish bath. We experience the sounds of the call to prayers. We relish her solo picnic and her meals in restaurants and cafes. Most significantly, we witness her splendid solitude and how a little alone time did change her life.
We also learn why solitude can be so nourishing to the soul and beneficial to the body. At a time when Americans have gone off the deep end in their panic over loneliness, Rosenbloom compellingly demonstrates how spending time alone can be blissful and meaningful and fulfilling. To make her case, she draws from her own experiences, as well as the insights of poets, artists, musicians, philosophers, urbanists, writers, and anyone else who has thought deeply about the psychology of solitude. Most important to me as a social scientist, she also shares findings from research on solitude, savoring, happiness, intrinsic motivation, emotional engagement, the value of ordinary experiences, and the joys of anticipation. Also included are illuminating overviews of studies that explain why we get it so wrong when we think other people are judging us when we are out on our own in public.
“Alone Time” is a book of delights. There are wise and witty quotes about solitude from all sorts of people. (A few of the best are Rosenbloom’s own. For example, about dining solo, she says, “When you’re not sitting across from someone, you are sitting across from the world.”) There are shout-outs to lovers of solitude across time and across walks of life. There are eye-opening statistics on just how commonplace solo dining and solo travel have become. There are great insights on the psychology of going solo. There is some shattering of myths (for example, taking time for ourselves doesn’t make us selfish, but instead “more open and compassionate toward others”). If you come to this book thinking that loving your alone time makes you a freak, you will leave realizing it makes you amazing. Alone Time, Rosenbloom tells us, is her “love letter to loners.”
The book is sprinkled with observations about the rewards of going it alone that all start with the word “alone.” For example: “Alone, there is no need for an itinerary. Walk, and the day arranges itself.” “Alone, I could listen to the rain come down, listen to it in a way you can’t when someone else is around, with bodily stillness.” “Alone, we can develop our aesthetic sense at our own pace…” I became so enamored of these quotes that I went back through the book to try to scoop them all up.
“Alone Time” is not a self-help book. It is too profound for that. But there is plenty of useful advice along the way, as well as a chapter at the end, “Tips and Tools for Going It Alone.”
I love great literary writing and Rosenbloom’s prose is gorgeous. Her storytelling skills create a vicarious vacation for those of us home alone reading her book on a couch. A few chapters in, I realized that while reading Alone Time, I had been smiling the whole time.
Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude has many audiences. It is for the joyful solo traveler, who has been waiting for someone to write an unapologetic, unabashed celebration of what it means to be out exploring on your own. It is for the wannabe solo travelers, who have been thinking of striking out on their own but just needed to see that sparkle in someone else’s eyes to motivate them. It is for the proud solo diners, who feel that obsessing about what other people think of you when you dine alone is so last century. It is for the people who cherish their time alone. And, although Alone Time is not about living single or living alone (Rosenbloom is married), it elegantly captures what so many single people love about their single lives. This is a book to be celebrated and savored.
Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude
Viking, June 2018
Hardcover, 272 pages