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Fifty Days of Solitude

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  280 ratings  ·  52 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book

Faced with a rare opportunity to experiment with solitude, Doris Grumbach decided to live in her coastal Maine home without speaking to anyone for fifty days. The result is a beautiful meditation about what it means to write, to be alone, and to come to terms with mortality.
Paperback, 128 pages
Published November 30th 1995 by Beacon Press (first published 1994)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  280 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Julie Ehlers
Is anyone ever going to be able to write a book about taking an extended amount of time to themselves ever again? I'd been meaning to read this book for years and thought lockdown would be the perfect time to do it, but by then I'd already experienced solitude for twice as long as Grumbach did, and I didn't feel like this gave me any new insights into it. If anything, I thought she should spend at least another fifty days in solitude and get back to me then. Probably this isn't a fair review giv ...more
Laura Lee
When I read a book like this I feel, essentially, envious. I don't understand how someone gets to publish a book like this. It is an edited journal of the author's thoughts about the books she is reading and her inner states during a period living alone. My journal is full of this type of observation, and I generally consider the musings to be material, not finished product. That is not to say that her reflections are entirely uninteresting.

If I were to suggest to my agent that I publish a clea
I discovered Doris Grumbach through a GR friend's review, and finding "Chamber Music" to be a 5 star read ( picked out this slim volume on one of those topics that ceaselessly fascinates me.

I have a little grumble with this book in that my definition of "solitude" would be more absolute. She received a prodigious amount of mail and had ample opportunity to have human contact with people in a community she was well acquainted with, though she does largely
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I believe May Sarton is a much better writer of the pleasure to be found in solitude.
Mary & Tom
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Until coming across this book, I had never heard of Doris Grumbach-novelist, critic, and teacher-to label a few of the roles she has played in this life. The title drew me to this work because having a busy life with many commitments, I often seek solitude. Eating a Taco Bell burrito alone in my car with a good book over the noon lunch hour and avoiding the cafeteria is my favorite kind of lunch.

Grumbach’s fifty days are spent trying to write a new work of fiction but are often derailed by the
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio
Nothing earth shattering, but full of some great observations about being alone.
Erika Nerdypants
I used this book during my morning meditations and very much enjoyed the thoughtful reflections on solitude, that elusive thing, that we so often long for and then squander when we are gifted with it. Grumbach reflects that solitude takes on a deeper meaning as we age, and I certainly can agree with that. The older I get, the more willing I am to trade in the restless energy of youth for the quiet, if at times a bit lonely hours. Much like the author, I find that solitude elicits a craving for m ...more
Joel Boh
Jul 28, 2016 rated it liked it
The ultimate indulgence as a writer is to write like you would in your journal and have it published - as is. This is that sort of book. If you're something of an introvert where objects and places take on much meaning in your mind, then this book is for you.

I liked it myself.
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
she didn't have much to say. it was basically notes from her solitude very little of which was worth reading. ...more
Kari Yergin
Jul 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This teeny little book is Grumbach’s reflections during her 50 day experiment of living mostly without interaction with other people in a cabin in Maine I found some of it interesting but found myself skimming over many of the vignettes. I wanted to like it more. My feelings of curiosity and — I think— envy at what she was doing made me hopeful. Perhaps with a bit more editing to make it feel more like a book and less like a sort of edited journal I may have. Im still glad I read it, if not just ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-nonfiction
Because of the absence of her companion, Doris Grumbach had the opportunity to spend fifty days alone in the village of Sargentville, Maine during the winter of 1993. It was a particularly hard winter, and Grumbach was 75 years old. This was a self-created experiment. Apart from essential visits to the post office and grocers, Grumbach kept her human interactions to a minimum, and either exchanged no words or the bare minimum necessary to complete her transactions. Though she had books and music ...more
Brian Wilcox
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
For me, this was a short, but slow read. Unlike most works of this genre, this was written not by a 'spiritual' or 'religious' teacher, and can easily be seen to be neither. The field of expertise for Grumbach was the world of literature, not the world of religion or spirituality. Yet, her religion does show through the writing at times. She, also, shows a fondness for the practice of Quakers, with their worship of sitting together in silence, receptive to the voice of the Light. She never ident ...more
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Probably my favourite book this year. A lovely meditation on spending 50 days alone on the coast of Maine (Sargentville) in the winter of 1993, mostly without speaking or listening to the spoken word except for 40 minutes of NPR news per day. I read it in about an hour but I marked many passages to copy and consider more fully later. I also learned a few new words (inguement, endolithic -- neither of which my spell-checker seems to know either). She quotes from many other writers (and a few visu ...more
Mar 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a treat! The author has the opportunity to spend some time and alone and then shares her experiences. it is not a diary but written after the 50 day experiment and she has time to process her thoughts. It is a simple meditation on solitude and so much more. She shares what she calls "snapshots" some only a few paragraphs or a page of a particular thought or topic. I found her very insightful and a delight to read. I am looking forward to reading more by her. ...more
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
In this memoir Grumbach reports on her experiment with solitude which she defines as being alone and not talking to anyone, but she has props such as music and books and NPR for news. This experience was to improve her productivity as a writer. As a solitaire by nature, I found her game plan silly and her conclusions idiosyncratic. Solitude can be boisterous. Solitude is aloneness, not loneliness.
Rita Ciresi
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is an introvert's delight--a slender meditation on silence and solitude by the wise and often cynical Doris Grumbach. If you loved Anne D. LeClaire's Listening Below the Noise or the works of Joan Anderson and May Sarton on honoring solitude and quiet, this is the next book for you to read! ...more
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoughtful and wise

This little book comforted me and engaged me on an intellectual, as well as spiritual level. Thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it for those wishing to dig deep into their souls.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe it took my 4 months to read this super short memoir. I just don't have enough minutes in the day it seems. ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lovely, broody winter read.
Kathy Stinson
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
A beautiful little package this book. Sadly there was little in its content that I personally found particularly thought-provoking.
Catherine Nisbet
Feb 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Very different than I thought the book would be and learned to like it as I read along.
Geri Degruy
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Many real-life reflections on solitude, silence and life. Well written and food for thought and meditation.
Alison Peters
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Perfect read on a winter day - will keep on shelf to reread.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Not earth shattering but interesting. A nice quiet read.
Sondra Wolferman
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
"I was now alone with music, books, an unpopulated cove, and with the frightening reflexive pronoun, myself," explains the author about her experiment in solitude. What she fails to mention is that she also had television, radio, music, and a computer, all of which she employed on a regular basis during her solitary sojourn in an empty home in coastal Maine. This might be the Twenty-first Century version of 'solitude', but it is not my definition of solitude. Watching TV, listening to music, and ...more
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Head-clearing and peaceful ruminations that introverts will savor. Can simulate a few hours of solitude at least. Lots of gems like, " somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure...without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures" and "There are individuals who feel their senses separate them from the real, from being. That sense in them infects their other senses...W ...more
Paula Dembeck
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Grumbach has a multifaceted career as a novelist, book reviewer, essayist and bookstore owner. It is a busy life which leaves her very little opportunity to be alone. However, when she is seventy-five years of age, a rare opportunity presents itself. Her partner is planning a long book buying trip and Grumbach will have a fifty day period of time to be alone, relax, and think. She decides to spend that time in her coastal Maine home. During that time she will not speak to anyone, but will truly ...more
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
A friend gave it to me, perhaps thinking it may help me with my writing. I generally love to read about writers, and further, the premise reminded me somewhat of Thoreau and Walden. But I was disappointed. I confess to having found some insight, but for the most part I didn't care much for the book itself. Written in vignette style, too often I found myself reading about yet another person with whom the author had been aquatinted dying or loosely correlated images of what she was thinking during ...more
May 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fifty Days of Solitude is a meditation, a devotional; it is the reflections of a woman who is alone for the better part of two months. Her partner is on an extended business trip; a storm has felled her tv antenna, so she hooks up her answering machine and eschews the company of others, except for occasional necessary visits to town, for the better part of two months. Since this is Maine, in the deep winter, even those errands don’t give her cause for much human interaction. She lives alone, goi ...more
Sigrun Hodne
I kind of liked it, or I wanted to like it ... ?

This book is actually not structured well enough - not edited properly - to deserve a high rating. It has, I think, lots of unrealized potential.

"Fifty Days of Solitude" is not so much a story about solitude, as it is notebook about all kinds of things distracting Grumbach in her search for solitude. It could have been great, but is only reasonably ok.
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Doris Grumbach is an American novelist, biographer, literary critic, and essayist. She taught at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, and was literary editor of the The New Republic for several years. Since 1985, she has had a bookstore, Wayward Books, in Sargentville, Maine, that she operates with her partner, Sybil Pike.

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“The reason that extended solitude seemed so hard to endure was not that we missed others but that we began to wonder if we ourselves were present, because for so long our existence depended upon assurances from them.” 0 likes
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