Review: How To Be Alone by Lane Moore

How To Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t

by Lane Moore

I feel as though there’s been a new school of memoir/nonfiction written by comedians which have been coming out over the past decade or more. There are other books by comedians which are comedic in nature, extended riffs, whereas these other books are often about the stories behind the comedy and what they talk about on stage. They’re about discussing the roots of what they do, their journey, and in some ways capture that distinction between what Hannah Gadsby in her special Nanette talked about, between jokes and stories. For me Jen Kirkman is just brilliant at this. I’m a big fan of her comedy, but I think both of her books (I Know What I’m Doing: And Other Lies I Tell Myself, especially) are simply excellent, being both laugh out loud funny but also darker, deeper, more intense, and display a different type and approach of storytelling.

Lane Moore is the latest person to do this with her book How To Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t. The collection of essays covers a lot of ground by the comedian-writer-actor-musician behind the band It Was Romance, the comedy show Tinder Live and other projects.

Moore had me at the title. I read a lot of books about being alone and what that means for the simple reason that I’m alone. And I use the word as Moore does which is that it’s not about being single which is a temporary relationship status, but instead something more. It’s something that I sometimes use in jest, but it’s not an accidental or casual word choice.

But I do occasionally use it in jest or in a flippant manner, and in her opening chapters Moore slaps the reader across the face by saying, no, do not be fucking flippant about this. Because she talks about her childhood, which was brutal and lonely on levels that a lot of us have never had to deal with. About a childhood that was harder than a lot of us had to deal with and hurts to read about.

There are two aspects though which make this less brutal for those of us who had relatively happy childhoods. One is simply the ways in which she has such great insight into herself and to the people around her. From the dynamics of teenage and pre-teen friendships, to how we make and nurture friendships to parenting and so much more. Also she mentions how the act of writing this book meant that she reached out to her mother and sister to talk about some of these events and it sounds as though writing the book has brought them closer together than they have perhaps ever been.

Moore also writes extensively about one relationship – and the long and messy aftermath. There’s a lot that’s heartbreaking about this relationship. But what’s stayed with me is how insightful Moore is in dissecting both of their behavior. The way that she’s spent a lot of time thinking about it, how this relationship does stand out in so many ways, and what it meant. What it continues to mean. Because for some people there is this one relationship in our lives that didn’t work out, but it was the one that hit us. The one that really affected us. The one that taught us a lot about ourselves. And it didn’t end in this happily ever after way. It ended in this messy way that’s left marks that take us some time to figure out.

There’s a chapter about her adventures in babysitting – both when she was a kid and then in New York as an adult. There’s a New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs piece that covers some of the same ground but in a comedic way, showing off some of her purely comedic voice and approach.

There’s a chapter talking about TV and which mostly consists of her sharing her love for Jim Halpert from The Office and talks about her tendency to ship characters on TV shows which made me go, okay, fine, great, but then she mentioned Jaye and Eric from Wonderfalls as one of those couples she loves. And this is one of those things that I think is a good lesson with people as well as writers which is that one so often encounters in life and in works of art these elements and digressions and aspects of the work which is less than interesting, which doesn’t enthrall us, which makes us go eh. Chapters like this where it’s easy to skim to get to what we want. But what interest us in this person or in this artist is contained within there.

Plus she cited Wonderfalls. I mean Moore is so clearly my people.

Besides which she talks about the obnoxious disgusting bi-phobic bullshit that we find all over the place from all sorts of people. But not much. One could write a book about about being open to so many people but being rejected in such a nasty way by so many. But that’s another story and another book. To be honest I liked the fact that she didn’t make the book about that, though I’m sure some people will react differently.

The final essay in the book is titled “How To Be Alone” and if the earlier chapters in the book veered between scenes I couldn’t relate to and those to which I related so intensely, this chapter made me almost cry a few times. First of all it involves traveling alone, which I love doing and to the point where I struggle sometimes traveling with other people. Some trips have been the best of my life and some have been depressing, but I love traveling alone and any joyous tribute to the people you meet doing that is perfect in my book.

This last chapter is also where she tries to say, embrace being alone. Enjoy sleeping alone. Travel alone. Be weird. Be yourself. Do whatever you want. Encouraging us to see being alone as an opportunity. And as someone who deals with depression, I know what she means, and I also know what it means to be unable to think in those ways. Moore is saying to go and do what you want and find a new way to be. To take exercise classes and be open with your feelings to people. But also what it means to need physical affection when single and how hard that is for so many of us. She writes about getting a dog and how that changed her. She writes about her career triumphs, which are beyond what she ever would have dreamed. She writes honestly about how that doesn’t mean that dealing with depression and longing and sadness doesn’t go away. But that we know that life is hard and depression will return and that being in a relationship won’t solve any of our problems. The only solution is to simply be ourselves and grab at things and do what we love and what we think will bring joy. It’s a knowledge that comes from hard won sadness and depression and loneliness, but that’s the only answer. It’s not necessarily a comfort, but it is the answer.

“You take all that love you keep giving to selfish idiots and try to throw some of it in the general direction of your own heart and you pray even a little bit of it sticks there.”

I don’t know how it’s possible to read the book without falling in love with Moore a little. Without wanting to give her a hug and go drinking together. (Or at least attend the next Tinder Live show she does...more information of which can be found on her website). But if you can’t, then sitting alone in a room with a drink one night, and after turning that last page feel a little bit better, a little more connected, and a little less alone, that’s not bad, either.

Related:

Hard To Love: Essays and Confessions by Briallen Hopper. I interviewed Hopper about her book for The Rumpus which is about friendship and love and life outside of marriage. I feel like Hopper and Moore would be friends. Maybe, maybe not – I don’t know either of them – but I feel pretty certain that their books would be friends and go drinking together.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. A book about being single and lonely in a new city and through it interrogating art and artists who have been lonely and solitary and how their lives played out and how some of their work tries to visualize this idea of loneliness in very different ways. I love all of Laing’s work but here she really captures in her own story some of the loneliness of living in a new city and she managed to make something from it in a way that’s really thoughtful and inspiring.

The Winter Sister by Megan Collins. Not a Review.

A few random thoughts about The Winter Sister by Megan Collins (Atria Books, 2019).

I have a great affection for dysfunctional protagonists who are forced to return to their hometowns. Though maybe because I am one.

The fog that Sylvie is in rang very true to me. Also the ways that this fog can lift, be penetrated, in ways that are not directly tied to good things happening. It was a solid portrait of depression.

It’s set in a small Connecticut town, and while the dynamics of a very divided and heavily class and status conscious town rang true, in other ways the town as Sylvie lived and experienced it felt a little too small and not claustrophobic enough. Meaning that she keeps meeting people related to the murder case but in a small town wouldn’t a lot of people know her, know her mother, and wouldn’t she feel those eyes watching and judging her at all times? Or maybe I’m projecting…

There’s a former detective who sits down with Sylvie to talk about the case and the whole scene, while it was important as to the structure of the book, it was also frustrating. The whole “there’s too much red tape and not enough stock put into hunches and gut feelings” nonsense. No surprise that these cops were unable to solve a murder

I’m unsure about Annie. The portrait of the mother as this fragile and deeply damaged person feels a bit too one dimensional for the large and central role she plays in the book. Of course Sylvie is the central character and the book is about her, but the book conveyed too little sense of who the mother was. Maybe some of that is simply POV, but it felt unsatisfying.

In broad strokes, though, I found the mother-daughter dynamic worked. Maybe some of that is because we never really know our parents. Though of course it’s one thing for Sylvie to not understand her mother, it’s another thing for the reader not to.

In some regards, I had a similar response to the identity of the murderer. The book takes place in a small town and there is a limited cast of characters who could have been responsible. The killer wasn’t just going to be a random stranger we had never met before or something like that.

But in some ways that is the problem with writing small town murder cases. Most murders are committed by people they know. Most murders are committed because of a handful of reasons. And so there were only a few possibilities. Well, there was only one really, even if it wasn’t immediately clear.

The optimistically inclined ending works (is that a phrase? I’m using it) because I know what it feels like to come out of that fog of depression and exhaustion. And Collins doesn’t fall into the trap that things will improve, that everything is looking up, or even that the guilty party will ultimately be held accountable. The journey of the book is more emotional than it is about solving the crime. Which I like.

Overall, a good book. A good first book. And I want to see what Collins does next.