In 1936 Marjorie Hillis published Live Alone and Like It, a then-revolutionary self-help book aimed at single women who, in post-Depression America, were ready to establish a social presence somewhere between flapper and spinster. Until her “live-aloners” came along, the book’s scathing subtitle “A Guide for the Extra Woman” described a class of people completely defined and distraught by being unwed.
One of my best friends recently gave me this book, telling me I’d like it because I’m self-pityingly single, into 1930s aesthetics, and already doing some of the things Hillis prescribes to her readers. My friend was right – I do like it, so much that I’m starting this newsletter, which will use the book as a jumping-off point to talk about the American loneliness epidemic and what we can do to escape it. Hillis wants you to do things like wear fancy bathrobes and learn to make hors d’oeuvres. These are fun things that you should consider doing. But her readers didn’t have to contend with vampiric social media algorithms, dwindling privacy, or a rotted social safety net. That’s more what Home Alone will cover. It will still also be about cocktails and bed jackets, though.
The book is dated in other ways. Its value system is misogynist and some bits about maids and travel are racist, not to mention that the only women who would have been able to use the advice where straight, white, middle-class ones. The goal of the book is to make the reader happy enough to attract a man and shack up with him. This is a terrible goal. Home Alone has a different one, which is to make you feel less alone and consider why so many of us feel that way.
But because much of the advice is still good, I’ll be including as much as I can without the publisher suing me, and sometimes talking about how I am using it. Like any decent self-help book, Live Alone holds a core belief that the reader, like everybody, is by virtue of being born a fundamentally worthwhile person who deserves a dignified and happy life. It suggests that we are all capable of being comfortable enough with ourselves that we can enjoy our own company. Most self-help books boil down to either “Do more!” or “Do less!” Live Alone is more in the first category – it does not care about mindfulness or joyful objects – but it also wants you to luxuriate in being intentionally idle. It doesn’t require you to take its advice in any particular order or time frame. It demands neither asceticism or maximalism and does not present its wisdom as a miracle excavated by a gifted author. It does want you to spend money, but acknowledges that not everyone can, and that there is nothing shameful about lacking resources. Its cheery practicality is hard to resist.
Conveniently, it has twelve chapters, one for each month of 2019. Home Alone will send you four essays a month, each tied to a chapter and how its suggestions might look today. If this mix of old and new, advice and extrapolation, me and Marjorie sounds good, please subscribe, and do consider that this product is best consumed alone.