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Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live
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Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  422 ratings  ·  100 reviews
“Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become,” Peter Orner writes in this collection of essays about reading, writing, and living. Orner reads—and writes—everywhere he finds himself: a hospital cafeteria, a coffee shop in Albania, or a crowded bus in Haiti. The result is “a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memo ...more
Paperback, 316 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Catapult
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Lee Klein
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Acquired this after walking at lunch to the one good independent bookstore in Center City Philadelphia that sells new fiction while listening to the author's interview with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm. Loved the two short pieces that have nothing explicitly to do with books, the one about his "uncle" coming in out of the rain and the other about stealing his father's gloves. Both of these jumped off the page and were published in The New York Times (linked). These stories suggest and state the historia behind t ...more
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This? This is one of those books I consumed like I once did pepperoni pizza and salami grinders from the South End of Hartford as a teenager. Here one minute, gone the next, with no adverse aftereffects (known today as "love" and "handles").

And why not? It's a book about reading, one of those "reading about reading" books that makes the addict crave more books.

What's better still, in my case at least, is how most of the books P.O. drools over are short story collections, a point of
Julie Ehlers
I'm catching up on my 2017 reviews, and because I finished Am I Alone Here? so many months ago, I decided I would simply 5-star it and move on with my life—but when I looked at my own status updates I was reminded of the warm and friendly feelings this book engendered in me, and I decided it deserved a few words. In each brief essay in this collection, Orner talks about a book he's reading and finds a way to connect it to his own life, or the creative process, or the state of the world. There are no ...more
Nov 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016, kindle
I have mixed feelings about this book and, while reading, was alternately captivated and irritated. I’m always interested in reading lives, why we read, how books affect us, which books others find especially noteworthy. I like reading about, and thinking about, the ways that our lives and our reading are linked, how they inform each other. And I really loved parts of Orner’s account, especially the earlier chapters. But as the book progressed, I became kind of bored. I’m not sure why. Partly, n ...more
Diane Barnes
Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it
OK, glad it was a library book.
Ethel Rohan
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
AM I ALONE HERE? ends on the word 'haven.' I found haven in this thoughtful, heartfelt book. It's a wonderful blend of memoir and meditation.

On literature and life, Orner poses questions and seeks meaning and we're invited into the essential exploration. By turns pensive, probing, sad, stirring, insightful, tender, honest, angry, harsh, and cynical, AM I ALONE HERE? offers up so much. I found myself clutching the book at its close and answering the title question in a burst, 'No you'
May 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
Orner and I are different kinds of readers. I thought I was an emotional reader, but I'm a cold heartless consumer compared to someone who asserts passionate devotion to writers and books and bases his very identity on his transcendent reading experiences and favorite authors, someone who carries books as talismans, or as badges of his literary loyalties, someone who might self-consciously hold the cover of his book outward while riding the subway.

That's not being entirely fair, I realize. I li
Sophfronia Scott
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I know I love it because I want to go back to the first page and read it again. I consume again and again work that touches me because I want to imprint it on the tissues of my being so I can call it forth at will when I need to experience something thoughtful, something beautiful. Orner also consumes what he reads again and again but he is smarter than I am. He reads oceans while I'm still learning how to tread water and can't hold my own in the deep end. But I know what it is ...more
Olga Zilberbourg
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is wonderfully fluid in genre. Part memoir, part reader's diary, part craft book, it's one of those books I pick up when I'm feeling overwhelmed by the difficulties of life and looking for inspiration. Peter Orner reads and rereads the books he loves, and tells us in depth the circumstances of his reading.
Lauren Albert
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Many of you know that I have a shelf called "Books about Books and Reading"--it's one of my favorite topics. I have a whole section of a bookcase at home devoted to it. And to readers who also love walking away from a book with a list of other books to look for, this book will satisfy. It wasn't my favorite but it was good.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Peter Orner reads through his life, and that's what this book is. In these little essays, he faces a struggle in his real life and finds a struggle in a short story or novel that is similar. In the process, he shares favorite authors and favorite stories and favorite quotes. If you live to read, as Orner does, and as I do, you may enjoy reading to live along with this author, too.
Jonathan Maas
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like having your smartest, most interesting - and unpretentious - friend list you his favorite books, and the life insights that he gleaned from them

Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner sat on the library slush pile beneath my bed for a long time. I
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a book about reading and about writing. I enjoyed it because it introduced, or re-introduced me to "difficult" authors in an accessible way. Kafka, for instance, is not light reading, and Orner makes it a bit easier to contemplate tackling his works. I have always loved Eudora Welty, but I have found he stories challenging, or not sufficiently engaging; Orner showed me a way of thinking about her that makes me want to read her again. James Salter has always been a favorite author, but ag ...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
A delectable treat of a book for literary fiction readers. Peter Orner is a very good writer and this book is full of admiration for many well known writers (and some not so well known) whose writing has left an indelible mark on Orner. I love books about books and this one was particularly wonderful for me because many of the same writers he cherishes are also cherished by me. William Maxwell! William Trevor! John Cheever! Bohumil Hrabal! But also Chekhov, Kafka, Welty, Walser, Bellow, Salter, ...more
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I wish I had the words to express the magic of this book (but then, "the failure to capture the vision is the vision"), how it quietly schooled me on life and literature --- or maybe school is the wrong word, but engages in a generous, honest meditation on the intersection of the two that feels alive, open, ongoing, almost conversational (in that it places the reader in the room) brimming with insight and wisdom. My pencil went to town. This will be a book I'll return to again and again for its ...more
K.P. Ambroziak
I came to Peter Orner through his Modern Love essay in the New York Times. I connected with his writing style from the first. His poetic cadence carries you along like a stream taking hold of a leaf. His phrases kind of move through you as you read, making you feel as if you’re in conversation with him. I read his three short stories in the Paris Review, which were conservative and less moving than his essay, but still I wanted more, which is why I picked up “Am I Alone Here?” I didn’t go in wit ...more
“Think of this as a book of learned meditations that stumble into memoir,” writes Peter Orner.

These notes-into-essays began nine years ago, in the aftermath of a marriage. Orner finds himself drawn to short stories that refuse to explain themselves. And it is that open-face open-mindedness voice of discovery and wonder that appeals to me.

The forty-two essays in this anthologies first appeared in a dozen publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, BuffFeed and McSweeney’s.

Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
There are some books where the title is completely confusing and, at first glance, out of place...Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN comes to mind. This is not one of those books. What you see is what you get with Peter Orner's AM I ALONE HERE: NOTES ON LIVING TO READ AND READING TO LIVE.

The book gives readers glimpses into the author's life, and what books/authors have influenced him. It's a borrowed book that was never returned, and the author is ruminating about his relationship with the borrow-ee.
Gaylord Dold
Jan 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Am I AloneHere? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner (Catapault, New York, 2017)

There are many, many books about the reading life and how books effect and alter our existence. Schools of thought exist that emphasize the intellectual accomplishment that reading brings, seeing reading as a form of mental exercise. Other readers emphasize the empathetic nature of reading, seeing in reading a way of entering other worlds, cultures, and individuals, bringing them clo
Robert Vaughan
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My pal Sara Lippmann sent me this book and I was thrilled. I was familiar with the author, having read his short story collection, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. And though this book is, in some ways, a short story collection, it is so much more. It arrived at the perfect time, as all books do, and I devoured it. Then, come to find out, his own brother collaborated on the book illustrations throughout the book. And it gets its own extra star for that. I love these CNF/ memoir/ fiction/ poetr ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was really wavering between 3 and 4 stars for this one, but I decided to give Am I Alone Here? 4 stars because some of the passages were just too good. According to Goodreads I highlighted 59 extracts in this book, and I'm not surprised. Many of the stories were moving, funny, etc. but there was a bit of lull midway, that the author couldn't full shirk off.

Lots of quotable material, but too many rhetorical questions. Sometimes this book read like an extended Carrie Bradshaw monologue.

For the most/>


Annalise Nakoneczny
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
I really wanted to like this book. It's a memoir that's written in short vignettes centered around books that the author of this memoir was reading at different moments in his life. Great concept. And the writing is good and all, but I found the whole book to be rather pretentious. The author seems to revel in his own alone-ness, and in my opinion the whole book has a tone of the author complaining. He does make a lot of good literary points, and the last several vignettes I liked very much. I d ...more
Nate Hawthorne
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Probably closer to 3.5. I connected with many of the chapters and the ones that I didn't really relate to were short enough to get through just in case there was a nugget of wisdom.
Angela Boord
3.5 stars
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
"Power rarely pauses to listen, much less read." p. 43.
Lots of book suggestions.
I am not a lover of the short story, as this author is, but he did persuade me to look at certain stories in a different way, to value the way a short story can give a glimpse of a moment in time, a snapshot of a life or an incident. In this book of essays, Peter Orner features a different author and one of their writings, in each chapter. Most of the chapters describe a short story, and it’s impact on his life, although a few do mention novels. Throughout the book, the author tells much about h ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
charming book about books and life. A 3.5
If you are ever feeling too euphoric, read this book because it will kill whatever good mood you may be suffering from. Peter Orner spends an inordinate amount of time complaining about what a crappy life he is leading. His father is a loud-mouthed jerk. His estranged wife is a basket case. He doesn't seem to go anywhere pleasant. He reads only the most depressing stories, and he mainly uses them to justify his pity party.

Thanks for the buzzkill Peter.
An interesting collection of personal essays. Orner contrasts what he is reading - or finds he NEEDS to read at times - with his personal life. Gets a bit navel-gaze-y on occasion, but the range of authors he writes about is really awesome (particularly the short story writers). Orner has a toss-off line that states he prefers literature where families have trouble communicating and it's a through-line between his reading and memoir.
John Benson
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a book of short essays by a man who is trying to understand his life and writing through the books he reads. Peter Orner is also trying to make sense of the grief he feels at his dad's death, despite the fact that they did not speak to each other for many years. An honest and interesting book of essays.
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Peter Orner was born in Chicago and is the author of three novels: Esther Stories (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (Little, Brown, 2006), and his most recent, Love and Shame and Love (Little, Brown, 2011) which was recently called epic by Daniel Handler, "...epic like Gilgamesh, epic like a guitar solo." (Orner has since bought Gilgamesh and is enjoying it.) Love and ...more
“For we are like olives: only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us.” 1 likes
“The difference between a short story and a novel is the difference between an inarticulate pang in your heart compared to the tragedy of your whole life.” 0 likes
More quotes…