Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness (2021)


L: 7.5/10

M: 8/10

J: 7/10


Analysis from an unskippable Youtube ad for a product you actually need:

For someone who lives inside their own head and favors a night in alone or with my wife over literally anything else, a book diving into the subject of loneliness seemed interesting on the surface. At first, I was captivated, and my curiosity was quenched at every page turn. Then a creeping thought started to arise, that maybe I simply don’t care. Could I be confusing loneliness with apathy? Has my decades-long quest and achievement of a life filled primarily by myself and no one else what I wanted this whole time?

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness looks at the subject of loneliness from a plethora of angles. It’s generally viewed by author Kristen Radtke as an epidemic or plague on our current culture, one that she deep dives into through pounds of research and in-depth historical treks. It’s all placed beautifully to Kristen’s art, a style that my mind identifies with The New Yorker, a magazine that she, of course, has contributed to the past. It’s an art style that I love and identify with the underground comics I gravitate to and could read a book about anything if it was this visually appealing. 

Erasing my digital fingerprint many years ago, I failed to relate to the social media aspects of Kristen’s research. Or maybe I related too well with it, for the section dredged up all the reason I left in the first place. My reasons weren’t as extreme as someone coldly live-tweeting the death of their husband, but my hatred of selfies and the opinions of others is enough to make my skin crawl. I am old enough to remember when Facebook was open only to college students, and there was a brief moment when I enjoyed it. That door shut slam once everyone’s Mom joined the party and even more so when everyone’s political opinions became a hot topic. It gives me panic attacks and a sharp migraine even thinking about it.

She goes off on a tough stance against gun ownership, one that even I, with my beliefs of guns being generally fucking stupid, raised an eyebrow at. It’s a blackeye on the collection that comes off as radically brash when the rest of the sections are more open-ended on coming away with your own conclusion.

For someone who doesn’t ever feel loneliness and instead gravitates towards it on purpose, I could still relate to several other sections. I grew up in a bowling alley, so the timing of the antiquated practice of a weekly bowling league was very accurate. Also, the part where she dives into her teenage years creating blogs and early internet-era web design hit home. I would spend the AOL years of my life jumping from Napster to teaching myself HTML code. I can still hear the cackle of a dial-up modem still screeching through the empty halls of my childhood home.

A final section involving doctor Harry Harlow’s research into the subject is when Kristen is at her best. She goes through the timeline of his incredibly harsh and torturous experiments on monkeys, bringing up parallels along the way in the doctor’s own life. She’s not leaving a lot up to the imagination when detailing how his, for lack of better words, animal cruelty sharply mirrored his struggles with loneliness. Sure his work established many childcare practices that are still practiced today, but the evil behind it all is very chilling. 

Analysis fromhat perfect glass of your favorite red blend that makes you appreciate being almost 40:

Okay, so I’m not known for picking winners. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know this. I came into this read hoping to redeem myself but also thinking the subject matter was appealing. Also, I am known for picking a book by its cover, and this trade’s artwork is just my cup of tea.

The first part of this graphic novel truly hooked me. I’m one of those people who genuinely love deep discussions and digging into the why and feelings of serious topics. I don’t enjoy debates as much because, as an enneagram two, I lose interest when people attempt to silence someone’s opinions. Still, a good honest discussion is such an amazing mental adventure for me. This trade offered so many nuggets that would open so many exciting talks, so I was hooked. Loneliness is undoubtedly something that most people have had to deal with at some time or another. The past two years, especially, have created a lot of loneliness in our society. I read the first half of this graphic novel, thinking about how desperately lonely I have been at certain times in my life. After a particularly devastating break up I moved into my own apartment, and my daughter and I lived on our own for the first time. She was at her father’s on the weekend, and I remember times that I would leave work on Friday and not physically see or touch one human until work on Monday morning. I had never felt so lonely and depressed. I realized then that human touch and connection were a requirement for my mental health.

On the other hand, my now-husband has worked out of town for the past month, and though he misses his family, he has loved the lack of human interaction. It has been a mental reset and recharges for him, while it would mean a complete emotional nosedive for me. Loneliness for him comes when he feels he is not emotionally connecting to the few people he truly loves.

I was all in on this read because I could connect to the subject, empathize with the material and appreciate the research and delivery. Then she lost me. The author took quite a leap when she joined guns to the cause of loneliness. I am all for people having their own opinions on gun access and gun violence. I have strong opinions, but her tone changed entirely from informational to pushing an agenda, and I never appreciate a manipulative approach to anything. It was also difficult to trust the remainder of her writing after she explained the dynamic of her love and trust for her husband being at risk regularly over something she was well aware of and refused to make peace with. I would love to discuss with the author myself whether her loneliness has something to do with her refusal to see the other side of things and allow grace and mercy for opinions that don’t align with her own.

As a reader, I decided to put my feelings on the author’s personal life aside and continue to read on with an open mind, and I am so glad that I did. For most of the remainder of the trade, I was treated to the informative, though often dysfunctional and questionable research of Harry Harlow. Harlow’s work with monkeys and loneliness was quite educational and eye-opening. While I certainly disagree with his methods and felt a good bit of therapy would have worked wonders on Harry, reading about his work and studies proved very interesting.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this pick. I feel I learned a lot, and it has been fruitful in providing several opportunities for engaging discussions with people in my village. I have even ordered several copies to share with those I feel would appreciate and enjoy it. I liken my appreciation of this trade to how I view people. I want to learn from them and see what makes them tick, but I do my best to exercise grace and mercy for the parts of them that I find particularly unattractive.

Analysis from an unnoticed facial cue hidden behind a mask:

The first half of Seek You really had me pretty enthralled. The way that Radtke would effortlessly combine narrative with research was really appealing to me. The illustrations lent to the text without making me feel as though I had to have a certain reaction to them. I like being shown where to look but not what to see. About halfway through, I was pretty put off by her statement, referring to firearms, “To arm ourselves is the most extreme form of separation I can imagine.” I disagree; I’d say it’s engaging in Facebook debates… but that might just be me. 

I don’t categorize myself as either a lonely person or one who has a problem being alone. I do the latter by choice often. I don’t believe the two are the same, as some do. I’m actually more likely to feel lonely while amongst others, especially when phones are involved. My phone is hauntingly still while I am amongst others, with all notifications off and group chats silenced. I find I choose to spend my social time with people who seem to also put the emphasis on engagement in our time together as well, though I do have my fair share of superficial friendships as well. It’s the former that keeps me from feeling lonely, and the latter satisfies when the desire to not be alone hits.

As a teacher, I do see some of the different nurture styles of parents and how it directly affects their children. The monkey studies were incredibly disturbing. Most of the studies she touched on seemed to show how lack of contact/connection led to failure to thrive. I’d be interested to see a study on how lack of secure attachments leads to hyper-independence, which I would label as just as unhealthy. I don’t think I ever want to understand people who claim to not need anyone. 

I believe this book was time well spent in reflection, and I hope we have some systemic cultural changes that lead to people making good connections again and ending this epidemic. I have a whole rant on the dichotomy that we are currently in… I’ll save that for another day.

Kristen Radtke

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