A middle-aged everyman who realizes that he doesn't have any close friends is inspired to set out on a humorous and ultimately moving quest to revive old tribes and build new ones, all with the goal of having someone to hang out with on Wednesday nights.
In one sense, the journalist Billy Baker has undertaken a self-defeating task: to cure his loneliness by writing a book. He could’ve made a documentary — seems more social — but instead he’s chosen one of the loneliest professions, involving endless days of solitary confinement in a room with your keyboard and self-doubt, to try to reconnect with friends. Still, Baker manages to pull it off, mostly ... an entertaining mix of social science, memoir and humor, as if a Daniel Goleman book were filtered through the lens of Will Ferrell ... It’s all very Mars versus Venus. Maybe the research backs up these stereotypical differences — I’m not an expert on the literature. But I would have liked to read more about inter-gender friendships ... I would have also liked a deeper dive into the loneliness crisis’ effect on female friendships ... And finally, I’d love to read more about the complex effects of technology on our interpersonal communication. Yes, our laptops have isolated us in some ways. But they’ve also spawned passionate communities, for better and worse ... Over all, though, Baker is an energetic writer and this is an important topic. Plus, the book inspired me to initiate a Zoom lunch with a college friend.
We are, Mr. Baker warns, 'in the midst of a full-blown loneliness epidemic,' and it was gathering steam well before Covid arrived ... Mr. Baker, a pleasantly pugnacious idealist, is not one to send up the white flag. The best cure for loneliness, he believes, is good old-fashioned friendship, and he’s willing to put himself into harrowing situations to prove his point, including booking passage on a pre-Covid cruise packed with female fans of the pop band New Kids on the Block. In another day he might reasonably expect sainthood for this level of sacrifice ... Mr. Baker may strike some readers as a touch glib, others as a touch earnest. He counts 'vulnerability' as a virtue and practices heroic compassion: 'Life is harder when you care.' Others might raise an eyebrow over his observation that 'our human story is not one of loners, but of groups, collectives, communities, friends' and that the 'absolute zenith of human society' was achieved by Native Americans before Europeans introduced 'poisonous extrinsic values—things like money and class and authority, a culture that prized market and state over community and family. You know, those things that remain our devils.'
A memoir that doubles as an exploration of the importance of friendships between men ... Well-researched and insightful about our human need to interact, the narrative is also smooth and conversational. Readers may cringe at his attempts to bring together school buddies via mass email invitations, and most will laugh out loud at his story about his participation in a New Kids on the Block cruise ... Throughout, the author makes clear his desire to forge meaningful platonic connections with other men, and he is candid about the difficulties that many men face when acknowledging that they need one another ... A refreshing and entertaining personal perspective on why men need male friends.