Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone - Eric Klinenberg So it's like this: I'm a member of one of the demographic groups Klinenberg focused on while writing Going Solo. I'm a professional, middle class woman in my late twenties with my own apartment, a circle of close friends who are basically family, and the ability to enjoy my own company. I value my privacy and my space and have a strong antipathy towards roommates, so since I can afford to do so without too much stress, I choose to live alone. In summary, I'm the bloody target audience for this book.

I want to clear up a thing or two before I go any further, as a couple other reviewers seem to be a bit confused. This is not a book about dating, it is not a book about people who are single in the relationship sense, and it is not a book about sex, promiscuity, or advocating the "breakdown" of marriage and intimate relationships. This is an unbiased study favoring neither the choice to be single or the choice to be in a long-term committed relationship. Klinenberg indicates multiple times that Going Solo focuses on current culture, specifically people who live alone, and that includes both those in committed relationships and those who are single. The distinction is important and one that should be kept in mind while reading.

A friend in her mid-forties recommended Going Solo to me, and as someone living alone, the book had instant appeal. Once I picked up a copy, I was impressed. Klinenberg starts out strong and keeps the momentum going for the first two-thirds of the book, and his presentation of solo living for those in their twenties through their fifties is solid, well-informed, and even makes it all sound downright exciting while admitting that it is also occasionally difficult. His argument that solo living actual promotes social interaction and civic involvement is convincing, even without my own experience having told me the same thing.

The material is organized loosely by age, youngest to oldest, so the first part resonated most with me. Descriptions of strong social connections, both physical and via technology, acknowledge the rise of networking sights, smart phones, and constant connection, and the suggestion that those going solo are more likely to have an extensive network of friends they rely on for companionship and support are spot on. Expanding my own circle came partly out of necessity: I live alone, and eight months ago had an unexpected and lingering health issue that left me mentally sound and even physically capable but, due to medical restrictions on driving and the occasional recurrence, I spent that time much more dependent on others than I ever wanted. Despite this, I fought to maintain my autonomy by remaining alone in my apartment, and because of distance, I relied on friends more so than family. In one sense I was lucky, as those "friends" who were drama queens, were there because they wanted something, or were not truly invested quickly disappeared, and I was left with those I could depend on and who cared deeply enough to help. (It's the "finding out who your true friends are and then replacing those who aren't" principle. Go discuss it over beers, it's a fun time.) Klinenberg serves up examples much like my own where it's the friends, not the family, who are helping the young soloists through times of trouble and providing all types of support while allowing the person going solo to consider the quality of relationships and surround herself with the most healthy companions. These beginning chapters of Going Solo are an excellent overview of the culture change in the wealthier countries of the world, and as I read through the pages, I became more and more excited.

The second third, while not quite as applicable to my age group, continued to offer a rousing picture of those who continue solo throughout their thirties and into middle age. I remained invested throughout this section, as it seemed like it was offering a view into a pleasant future should I choose to continue on my current path. (Whether or not I will is still up for debate and the book did nothing to change that.)

And then, unfortunately, there's the last part, which focuses on aging alone and the challenges faced by the elderly and isolated. Unnervingly, Klinenberg's message in the remaining few chapters seems to be, "We're all fucked." Unless we're affluent individuals, we will die poor, alone, and completely cut off from the world with no family (because they're heartless, self absorbed individuals) and no friends (because they're all dead). It seems the best we can hope for is terrible care in a nursing home that will kill us faster, thus putting us all out of our misery, and Klinenberg offers very little in the way of plausible alternatives. He's clearly dropping the ball here, as the balanced perspective of earlier chapters is suddenly lost in favor of this bleak outlook. Needless to say, this part was more than a little depressing, acting as it did as a kick in the balls to the rest of the book, which had been truthful but quite encouraging up to that point. I really could have done without that bit, so much so that I wish I hadn't read it and it strongly affected the rating I gave.

Also? Both the final chapter exploring how society needs to change to accommodate the rise in solo living and the book's conclusion read like an extremely boring term paper that goes on far too long for its own good. Unless you're really, really into dry material, skip that part. (No worries here if you chose to stop at the "Aging Alone" chapter, as you've already put the book back on the shelf and haven't missed out on a damn thing.)

A nitpick that another reviewer mentioned that was a pet peeve of my own: what the hell was up with the physical descriptions of each person he interviewed? Lines like that stopped the narrative flow, threw off entire passages, and were completely unnecessary, not to mention they read like bad depictions from fan fiction written by eleven-year-olds. Very bad stylistic decision.

Recommended overall, particularly if you're someone living solo (whether by choice or not) or if you're a cultural studies fan. Not recommended for the bitter, the ultra-conservative, or those who use patronizing moral indignation to explain why they're still alone and unmarried (ignoring, of course, the fact that they've grown bitter and are no longer particularly pleasant to be around).