All the Lonely People is a beautiful and moving book about loneliness and all its forms. Sam Carr has interviewed many people of all ages about loneliness and its effects. It’s also part-memoir about the relationships in his life that have shaped him. He explores how feeling lonely can isolate us, but also how it’s part of human life and how we can deal with it. These touching stories will stay with you long after you have finished the book.

Tell us about the bookshelves in your home.

All my bookshelves are in my office at home. It’s a small office but it has two large bookshelves, covering two walls. There is absolutely no rhyme nor reason to how the books on the shelves are arranged. A higgledy-piggledy mishmash of academic books, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books are intermingled with no logic or order. There are piles of precariously stacked books everywhere. The photograph below is a small segment of one of the shelves in front of me now. I think the juxtaposition and outward appearance of chaos unconsciously reflects my inner world!

What are some of your most recent bookshelf additions?

I was given two books for Christmas. One is Isaac and the Egg by Bobby Palmer – a novel about grief. The other is The British Labour Party in Opposition and Power 1979–2019 by Patrick Diamond.

Do you judge people by their bookshelves?

No. Not at all. But I do use the content of people’s bookshelves as a way of helping me get to know and understand them. A conversation about what people decide to read and why is a wonderful way to get to know them. Isn’t that the point of this exercise?

Which is your most treasured book?

A year or two ago, I visited one of the largest flea markets in England with a friend. She walked off and left me to explore. I found myself in a mysterious book kiosk in an old warehouse. I was immediately drawn to a 1948 copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: The Complete Edition. It presents 750 pages of original and complete Grimm’s fairy tales, complete with wonderful illustrations. For me, fairy tales are sacred messages, imbued with wisdom about life. And it only cost me £5!

What do your bookshelves say about you?

They say that my mind relies on a complex fusion of psychoanalytic thinking, philosophy, a wide array of fiction, huge swathes of children’s literature, and dry academic non-fiction to help me make sense of what it means to be a human being (which I seem to need to do).

What’s the oldest book on your shelf?

It’s a 1927 edition of Shakespeare’s works awarded to my grandpa as a prize for English when he was a 15-year-old grammar school pupil in 1932.

Do you rearrange your bookshelves often – and where do your replaced books go?

I never rearrange my bookshelves. They evolve and take shape organically, like a wild garden!

Do you have any books from your childhood on your shelf?

I only have one book from my childhood on my shelf – The Real Mother Goose. It was given to me in 1978 by my aunt, for my first birthday. It’s a collection of nursery rhymes that I loved as a child. A bit like the collection of Grimm’s fairy tales, I often saw the nursery rhymes as pearls of wisdom.

Book lender, book giver or book borrower?

I tend to be a borrower. I’m not a very good borrower in the sense that I often forget what I’ve borrowed and rely on the person who leant it to me to request it back.

Whose bookshelves are you most curious about?

It’d have to be Carl Jung’s. He’s undoubtedly my ‘dinner guest’ pick every time and I’d love to know exactly what was on his bookshelves, especially what he read beyond philosophy, psychology and religion.

And finally, what book apart from your own would you recommend to readers about loneliness (fiction or non-fiction or both)?

For me, fiction tends to ‘do’ loneliness better. I think ‘stories’ are better able to capture the nuance, complexity and lived experience of what it really means to be lonely. And non-fiction books about loneliness don’t often situate ‘story’ at the heart. There’s a lot of fiction that does a wonderful job of depicting loneliness. But I’ve been most captivated and impacted by Michel Houellebecq’s books, especially Atomised, Serotonin and The Map and the Territory. I think Houellebecq does a great job of capturing some of the absurd forms of loneliness that contemporary human life presents.

Introduced and complied by Sonia Weir
Photos by Sam Carr

Sam Carr is a psychologist and social scientist with the Department of Education and Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. He was the director of The Loneliness Project, a partnership between the University of Bath and Guild Living (a later-living retirement community provider). He has written extensively in the media about his research and has spoken about it on local and national radio, as well as being an academic expert on various television documentaries. Sam lives in rural Wiltshire with his son and their cat. All the Lonely People: Conversations on Loneliness, his first book, is published in hardback, eBook and audio download by Picador.
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Sonia Weir is a contributing editor to Bookanista. She started the Ultimate Reads and Recommendations Facebook group in December 2018, which now has over 700 members from all over the world. The group is inclusive and aimed at every reader, no matter the books, authors or genre.
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