Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Author: Susan Cain
Published: 2012 (Crown Publishers, New York)
Length: 333 pages
Source: Local library

Personal Enjoyment Factor:5/5

"Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet."

When I finished up a season of volleyball in Eighth Grade, I received an award that simply said "Shy Shelley." Did my coach think I would proudly display this on the fridge? Could she seriously not think of anything else to say? Maybe something actually related to volleyball? I thought I was a pretty good volleyball player. But apparently my personality overshadowed my skills.

Then in tenth grade, I was told by a classmate that he thought I was a foreign exchange student from France because I never spoke (he thought I didn't know any English), and because our history teacher pronounced my last name with a French accent.

In eleventh grade, I became a cheerleader. This was a little shocking to all who knew me. Did this mean I had magically transformed into an outgoing teenager who suddenly cared about popularity? No, I just loved to dance. (I had learned a few moves watching Janet Jackson videos.) I don't remember the exact wording, but I received an award at the end of the year that again focused on being "quiet." A quiet cheerleader. Now that's something to be proud of.

When you're shy/quiet/introverted it's hard to escape the labels. But what's worse is the judgment that often accompanies them: you're somehow inferior to your more outgoing peers, you have an over-inflated sense of self, you're anti-social. And the most damaging of all is the idea that YOU NEED TO BE FIXED.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain dispels these myths about introverts, and focuses on the special contributions they make to society. Introverts don't need to be "fixed." Rather, their unique abilities are necessary and should be valued in a society where the traits of extroversion are often idealized.  Cain argues her point in a fascinating, utterly readable book that encompasses history, science, psychology, and a bit of self-help.  But this "self-help" does not entail changing yourself  into something you're not.  Accept who you are, making adjustments only when necessary, and compensate by scheduling down-time. Pretending to be outgoing when you're not often has negative results.  I love how Cain sums it up in the conclusion:
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers--of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity--to do work you love and work that matters.  Solve problems, make art, think deeply (264).
But this is not just a book to make introverts breathe a sigh of relief and feel gratified that someone is recognizing their worth.  It's also very instructive for those who don't understand the "quiet" ones at school, at a party, or in the workplace.  Introverts thrive in a different environment than their peers.  Teachers, managers, parents, and anyone working with people would benefit from recognizing this and allowing all personalities to shine in their own way and at their own pace.

I'll take a lamplit desk over a Broadway spotlight any day. I like small groups and quiet places.  It takes me a long time to adjust to changes--don't ask me out to lunch five minutes before noon.  I'm thin-skinned (literally! See page 141).  I hate being the center of attention (perhaps due to thinking a wild animal is stalking me. See page 107).  But I'm also very creative.  I study things intensely and thoroughly.  I have a strong sense of empathy (although this often keeps me from certain situations because I am afraid of an inappropriate outburst of emotion.  It's never good when I'm crying and the person who is hurting isn't.)  I'm cautious, and I look before I leap.  I have an incredible amount of focus when I'm doing something I enjoy (never mind that I was late picking up two of my kids from school because I was writing this). I overuse parenthetical statements...

I firmly believe in the advice to "seek first to understand, then to be understood."  It's an effective way to communicate, and people are so interesting--I want to understand them.  But, wow, does it feel good to be understood!  I am who I am, and that's okay!  Maybe I should dig up that "Shy Shelley" award and place it proudly on my fridge. And maybe learn French...


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Classics Spin #2

I missed out on Classics Spin #1, but this sounds like too much fun to pass up. Here are the instructions from The Classics Club Blog:
  • Go to your blog. 
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.) 
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. 
  • Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce. 
  • The challenge is to read that book by July 1, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!) 
I've switched up the categories a little bit, adding five really long choices, and five shorter ones:

Five I'm hesitant to read/ am not sure if I will like:
1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
2. The Europeans by Henry James
3. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
4. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
5. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Five I can't wait to read:
6. Possession by A.S. Byatt ***The Winner!****
7. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
8. Germinal by Emile Zola
9. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
10. One of Ours by Willa Cather

Hefty books:
11. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
13. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
14. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
15. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Books light enough to carry in my purse:
16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
17. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
18. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
19. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
20. The Reef by Edith Wharton

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Glass Castle

Author: Jeanette Walls
Published: 2005
Length: 288 pages
Source: Local Library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4.5/5

First Line: I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

I've avoided reading this for a while because I was afraid of it. From other reviews it sounded pretty gritty and traumatizing. I also don't really like memoirs.  I'm too mistrustful of memoir writers. I feel like they're lying to me or embellishing the facts or making themselves into heroes. I probably would have left it alone forever if it had not been chosen for a book club. It turns out that I either trust Jeannette Walls, or she told such a gripping account that I forgot to doubt her.

I suppose it's funny that I should be so believing of such an unimaginable account. It would make sense for me to insert here a few examples of the appalling situations Jeannette and her siblings find themselves in as a result of the unconventional lifestyle of their parents. But I figure those who have read it already know. And for those who haven't, I don't want to lessen the impact by sharing bits and pieces out of their proper order.  Walls unfolds her story perfectly, and the reader grows and learns and survives with her.

Walls withholds judgment of her parents in such a way that made me as reader need to compensate for it.  I was ANGRY with her parents.  Very angry.  I believe that Jeanette's parents threw off the burdens of parenthood and let them fall on the shoulders of their children.  They did this in the name of teaching their children self-sufficiency.  I'm all for teaching my children to be independent.  But in this case, it only served as a justification for their extreme selfishness.

Am I too harsh?  I wasn't able to go to the book club, so I don't know if others felt the same.  Both parents were clearly mentally ill.  Alcoholism and depression smothered much of what was positive about their approach to raising kids.  But I can't bring myself to excuse some of the things they did or allowed to happen. Am I a perfect mother myself?  Absolutely not.  But I have to say that reading this book puts my ugly moments into perspective.

Thankfully, Jeanette and her siblings were molded into strong and successful adults despite and/or as a result of their experiences.  What makes the memoir bearable is the survival story of these remarkable children. One thing I've learned about parenting is that one and one don't always equal two.  The equation is complex with too many variables to predict what the product will be.  But we still try to do our best with the tools we have, and love our children the best way we know how.  I suppose in some way, that's what the Walls parents did.  I'm just grateful that I have at least a few more "tools" than they had--food, shelter, and mental health (most of the time, anyway.)

On a somewhat related note--Happy Mother's Day!

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Literary Events of Early Summer

I think I'm blogging again. I'm reasonably sure enough that I am declaring my intent to participate in a couple of "events" in June:

Sign up at Roof Beam Reader.

I'm planning to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac for the simple reason that its been collecting dust on a shelf for a while now. 


Sign up at Délaissé.

There were several buttons to choose from.  I chose the above because of the smoldering look this guy was giving me...
I'm not sure what it says about me that I don't have any 18th Century English Lit on my shelf.  I have Clarissa downloaded onto my phone.  I will finish it someday, but not this summer.  If someone asks me next September, "So what did you do over the summer?" I really don't want the answer to be, "I read Clarissa."  If I could answer, "I read Clarissa on the beach in Hawaii," maybe I would consider it.  More realistic choices for me are:

I'm beyond excited!  Now I just need to find a readalong to attach myself to.