One of the most common remarks that I read from bloggers on here, is that she/he is an introvert. Writers tend to be introverts, with a few exceptions, Hemingway being one, but then maybe he was just an extrovert when he’d had a few too many. Writing requires introspection, and some peace and quiet. Your mind be busy and your thoughts multiplying faster than you can get them down, but outwardly you are silent. Although this book is not a new release (it was a best-seller in 2012 and won numerous awards), I thought it would be a good selection for this month’s literary salon, if only to provide food for thought as summer is winding down and our noisy busy lives resume.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – by Susan Cain – 2012
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts–from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.”
A self-proclaimed introvert, Susan Cain is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School and spent seven years working in corporate law for prestigious clients, then worked as a negotiations consultant before quitting to become a writer. In addition to her two best-sellers (Quiet 2012 and Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts 2016), her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications, and her TED talk on the same theme has been viewed over 23 million times. She is co-founder of the Quiet Schools Network and The Quiet Leadership Institute. All in all, a very impressive resume – it tired me out just reading about all her accomplishments, and this is just the shortened version – although she attributes all she has achieved to being an introvert. I did note that it took her seven years to research and write the book.
My Goodreads Review:
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As an introvert, I really enjoyed this book, especially the last chapter which was addressed to schools and teachers, but then I was the child whose otherwise stellar report card always included the derogatory comment, “Joni fails to participate in class.” Vindicated – Introverts now Rule!
Why I Liked The Book: (see review above)
It’s been so long since I read this book that I can’t remember specific details about it, but it made me feel that introverts were finally being heard and valued for the first time, in a world which basically worships extroverts. Most of our public leaders, CEOs and politicians are extroverts – anyone who can talk a good game is often successful, justified or not, in a world which often values style over substance. These are the people who take up all the space in the room, grab all the attention and never lack for anything to say. But do they ever stop to listen? Introverts tend to be the best listeners, and often make the best bosses because they listen, ask questions and weigh all the factors before they decide or speak. They tend to observe and remember things about others, and usually make great conversationalists, a rare trait in this all-about-me world. They are often creative souls as creativity requires solitude. Introverts are generally undervalued in today’s society, so I enjoyed reading a book which pointed all that out and felt a certain degree of vindication. (Not to knock extroverts though, parties would be dull without them!) Here’s a Wikipedia link with a breakdown of the chapters and principles involved.
Introverts would much rather stay home and read a good book than go out to a social event, but usually enjoy themselves when they do. The would rather have a good conversation with one person, than many superficial ones at a crowded party. They enjoy their own company, and like being with others, but usually need alone time after socializing, in order to recharge.
I’ve always been a quiet person, a result of genes, being a middle child and growing up in a fairly isolated rural environment. I was a quiet kid who turned into a quiet adult. I might have gone into journalism as I love a good story, only I and others (like the high school guidance counselor) thought I was too quiet. (But then they ruined my plan of being a girl detective too!)
I was a details person, as quiet people often are, and was well suited to my career where for decades I had a comfortable level of interaction with people. Working forced me to become more extroverted, and I was good at it, (no one would know as I can talk for hours if I have to, it’s an Irish thing), but it can be exhausting being an introvert in many jobs today. Like many work places, mine was eventually subject to downsizing, staff cuts and quotas and my enjoyable job turned into a stressful one, where I was under constant pressure and seeing way too many people – as those Facebook memes say, it was too peoply out there. I like people, in small doses, but after a day of people in big doses I would come home so overstimulated and drained it would take hours to decompress. I needed lots of down time. (I suppose if you are an extrovert who works at home all day you might want to go out at night and see people, but I have to wonder if the author’s change of careers was precipitated by her marriage and raising young children – those little cling-ons require lots of energy). Plus there is a level of rudeness and impatience in society today which was not there in my earlier working years. So if you ask me what I miss about not working, it’s the people, (most of them quite wonderful), but then again, it’s not. If you’re an introvert, you’ll know what I mean.
Introverts often have an easier time with retirement, as they are used to spending time alone, content in their own company and many retirement activities – gardening, reading, painting, are solitary pursuits. I guess if you are an extrovert you fill your schedule with volunteering or run for public office or travel the world on bus tours. While no one wants to be lonely or turn into a hermit, it’s nice to have a balance between the two which is consistent with your level of introversion or extroversion whatever it might be. (People who fall near the middle of the spectrum are called ambiverts).
Do they still make kids do public speaking in school? It was always a dreaded activity for me. Oh, I could write the speech, but my voice is soft and I can’t hear you would be the usual comment. Introverts do not like being the centre of attention, hence the dislike of public speaking – hard to avoid unless your speech is so boring the audience falls asleep! I would hope that teachers are better trained now to value introverts as well as extroverts. As for those report card comments, it was always the word – “failed” which bothered me. As if failure to raise your hand and participate was a crime, instead of merely being the innate personality trait it is, belonging to that of a quiet soul.
PS. As this is an older book, libraries may have a copy. It’s a fairly long but interesting read, but if you lack the time, here’s a link to the author’s TED talk.
Upon re-watching the TED talk again (20 minutes), I highly recommend it – some very excellent points, especially about solitude and creativity. I especially liked that it opened with the author talking about social activity in her family being everyone all together in their comfortable corners, reading their books. Obviously she grew up in a family of introverts, but her talk/book also has an important message for extroverts trying to understand their introvert spouses (opposites attract!) and children.