How to be Alone, by Jonathan Franzen, is currently at the top of my "favorite books" list, and has held that position since I read it, in the summer of 2004. I liked the book so much that I bought a spiral notebook, and began to re-read, copying down passages on the left side of the page and commenting on them on the right side. I didn't get past the first essay, but I still may go back and finish the project--I always enjoy the time I spend on it.
Here's the lead-up to the thesis of the book:
"I intend this book, in part, as a record of a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer."
and here's the thesis itself:
"The local particulars of content matter less to me than the underlying investigation in all these essays: the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the question of how to be alone."
Franzen is a masterful writer, he turns a phrase with the best of them. I've read two of his novels and I think the essays are better than the novels. The novels tend to verge on the whimsical, the fantastic, the imaginary. The essays are firmly rooted in reality, and Franzen's reality is clear, if a little dark. He has a wonderful balance between vulnerability and clear-headed exposition.
This is the perfect book for people whose inner life (the "Read - Think") is more real to them than the outer life (the "Live"). The answer to "how to be alone" is, to me, to realize that we are participating in the culture with our reading and thinking. We are networking and creating culture, too. It's not a lonely life.