I reviewed a favorite new fiction title, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, on the blog yesterday. We’re hosting three other fiction picks – The Baker’s Daughter (Sarah M. McCoy), The Flight of Gemma Hardy (Margot Livesey) and Mr. g: A Novel about the Creation (Alan Lightman) with author events in the next few weeks; I’ll write about those after the authors visit the bookshop.
Today I feature a very interesting non-fiction book, which I put in the category of “pop psychology.” If you enjoy the way Malcolm Gladwell dissects human nature in his books (The Tipping Point, Blink), you’ll grab onto Susan Cain’s investigation of the introverted life in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Here’s a bit of the back-of-the-book blurb:
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society — from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.
She introduces us to successful introverts and offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a “pretend extrovert.”
This book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
In the first pages of Quiet, Cain refers to the “quiet strength” of Rosa Parks (Quiet Strength is also the title of Parks’ autobiography), asking the reader: “Why shouldn’t quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don’t give it credit for?”
And this excerpt (which I’ve pulled from four consecutive paragraphs … all ellipses are mine) really struck home, as I consider myself an extrovert married to an introvert … but, perhaps I’m a closet introvert:
… We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts – which means we’ve lost sight of who we really are. Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts. … If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one.
If these statistics surprise you, that’s probably because so many people pretend to be extroverts. Closet introverts pass undetected on playgrounds, in high-school locker rooms, and in the corridors of corporate America. … You have only to raise the subject of this book with your friends and acquaintances to find that the most unlikely people consider themselves introverts.
It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. … We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire one type of individual – the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.”
Introversion - along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait. … Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are … discounted because of a trait that gets to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
Interesting, yes?! I’m sure this will be a hot pick for book groups – even, perhaps, those who don’t typically discuss non-fiction. It has a universal appeal, imparts facts and figures without being stuffy, and helps us to learn something about ourselves and those around us.
Tell me what you think — would your book group read and discuss Quiet? Leave your comments below … don’t be shy … I mean, it’s OK if you are …