If you’re lonely, you’re not alone. A sense of isolation is strikingly common among Americans of all ages, as Kristen Radtke found out while working on a forthcoming book. Her graphic essays, like the other stories collected below, capture the unique, inarticulable, yet always recognizable feelings that come with a failure to connect.
Nafkote Tamirat weaves a haunting mystery from the alienating experiences of immigration and adolescence. In Yukiko Motoya’s short stories, relationships serve to underscore only the seeming impossibility of being understood by others. But the children’s hero Paddington Bear finds comfort among fellow outsiders in an unfamiliar place. And for the novelist Amy Tan, solitary reflection is a spark for creativity.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out. Check out past issues here. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.
What We’re Reading
Yukiko Motoya’s surreal world of alienated characters
“The 11 short stories in this collection, translated by Asa Yoneda, range in tone from ominous thrillers to lighthearted folktales, but they always seem to return to a depletion of self. ”
📚 THE LONESOME BODYBUILDER, by Yukiko Motoya
Paddington Bear and the displaced child
“His tale feels particularly timely—against the backdrop of undocumented children being detained at the U.S. border and families being separated—offering a powerful, if at times limited, look at the difficulties of leaving one’s homeland and being a stranger in a new place.”
📚 A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON, by Michael Bond
Amy Tan’s lonely, ‘pixel-by-pixel’ writing method
“This is what my writing is about. This is what my whole life is about. No one can travel your own road for you; you must travel it for yourself.”
📚 THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT, by Amy Tan
📚 “SONG OF MYSELF,” by Walt Whitman
What’s the loneliest you’ve ever felt?
“When I started telling others I was working on a project about loneliness, I was surprised at first by how quickly some responded with their loneliest experience, often with immense specificity.”
📚 SEEK YOU: ESSAYS ON AMERICAN LONELINESS, by Kristen Radtke
The deft inventions of The Parking Lot Attendant
“[Nafkote] Tamirat feels free to cut across boundaries, blending surreal suspense with psychological realism. Her narrator’s acerbic yet candid voice is disarming; it will keep you steady company even as her novel subverts expectations again and again.”
📚 THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT, by Nafkote Tamirat
Last week, we asked you to share books that helped you reexamine history. Betsy Tatarsky writes that The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, captures “an important part of our country’s history that is not taught in school” and “could help people to become more compassionate.” Bob Russell, a reader in Washington State, points to Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc: “a brilliant presentation about a life that everyone knows a little but few know well—let alone that Twain spent years researching and writing this masterpiece.”
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