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The Power of Alone Time: Books on the Benefits of Flying Solo


Our world is a relentlessly social one: We are plugging in, signing on and checking in, it seems, at all times. With the marvels of digital life so close at hand, it's easy to lose sight of solitude's benefits. So it's more crucial than ever to make time for peace and privacy. From Susan Cain's Quiet to Thoreau's Walden, these books reveal the many ways alone time can enrich. 

1. Solitude
British psychiatrist Anthony Storr challenges the established notion that love and friendship are the "only source of human happiness." Pointing to several figures throughout history—from Beethoven and Beatrix Potter to Ann Sexton—whose greatest achievements came about in moments of solitude, he argues that taking alone time can lead to an enhanced understanding of oneself, as well as bouts of superior creativity.

2. Quiet
In her recent bestseller (now out in paperback), Susan Cain introduces readers to the inner lives of introverts (people for whom alone time is the norm). Drawing on her own experience as an introvert in the high-octane world of corporate law, she argues that our culture’s bias toward outspokenness and charisma leads us to overlook shy people and often miss out on their acumen and potential.

3. Walden and Civil Disobedience
A classic of solitary literature if there ever was one, Walden is the story of Henry David Thoreau's two-year retreat in rural Massachusetts, where he went to live as simply and "deliberately" as he could. Holed up in a spartan cabin and subsisting solely off the land, he chronicles his rugged education in self-reliance and his meditations on God, nature, and society. The experience leaves him with an irrefutable sense of self-sufficiency and a deep appreciation for aloneness. As he puts it, "I never found a companion so companionable as solitude."

4. Celebrating Time Alone
Six years of living alone on an island in the Pacific Northwest showed freelance writer Lionel Fisher both the bliss and treachery of extensive solitude. Fisher shares wisdom from his own experience and those of others, exploring the perils of alienation and the ways in which extensive alone time can bring happiness. "What is tragic, and so wasteful of the sanctity of life," he writes on his website, "is that we seek our happiness, our fulfillment, our answers, our very identity in others when first we must find it in ourselves."

5. Playing with Water
Renowned British travel writer and novelist James Hamilton-Paterson describes his life on a remote island in the Philippines in this book. With little to do beyond spearing his own fish, he looks back on his life thus far, observes the graces and pitfalls of island culture, and comes to discover the tenacity of his own self-reliance.

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