Fat Books & Thin Women


Review: Susan Cain’s Quiet
August 13, 2013, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Book Reviews, Literary Fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,

quiet

As the sort of person who regularly cancels on dates, happy hours, even running club, because I’d rather sit on my sofa reading and recovering from the stresses of a day surrounded by people in an open-plan office, I expected to love Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Besides being an introvert, I appreciate affirmation that my way is the best way, and was looking forward to 270 pages of hearing about how great I am and also how I can make everyone else realize how great I am.

I got that, sort of. Cain makes a convincing case for the strengths introverts bring to both professional and social situations, and while doing so strives to “normalize” introversion. If 30% of us are introverts, as she writes, isn’t it time for America (despite its extrovert ideal) to embrace us? This was kind of what I wanted: a manifesto on how great I am, and on why my unique skillset/need for quiet space/horror of parties should be valued in a professional setting. Instead, I got a short trip to a Tony Robbins seminar and some meanderings around the science of introversion, ultimately leaving me with the sense that it’s great to be an introvert as long as you work for, and are in a relationship with, someone willing to adjust his or her expectations to suit your personality type.

Was I bringing wildly unrealistic expectations into this reading? Yes, of course I was. I fess up. That doesn’t change, though, that Cain’s book doesn’t quite live up to its promise, in large part because halfway through she loses the thread and shifts into explorations of sensitive types, breaking down relationship communication styles, and how to raise an introverted child. These are interesting in their own way – there were moments in the final chapter, “How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them”, that made me (a) want to cry, (b) appreciate that my parents were pretty cool with me hanging out by myself, reading and writing, and (c) want to hug all the teachers who didn’t force me into dreaded group work – but they read as diversions from the earlier thrust of Quiet, with its focus on introverts in professional settings. What’s more, as an introvert who is decidedly not sensitive, I was thrown by the link Cain attempts to draw between introversion and extreme sensitivity – the sensitivity issue belongs in an article or book of its own, rather than being hidden in the middle of this one.

There are things to appreciate about Quiet, though, and in the interest of time and getting back into this whole book reviewing thing, I list them here:

  1. The introvert quiz on pages 13-14. Thanks to this quiz, I’ve learned that I’m a 16/20 on the introvert scale – just where I would expect to be. I should here note, however, that no one has ever described me as “mellow” and that people never “tell me that I’m a good listener,” although I do carry the introvert’s fear of small talk. It’s online, if you’re curious.
  2. Kagan’s study on “arm-thrashing infants.” Good to know that we’re pretty much set as introverts or extroverts from birth!
  3. All of Chapter 3, on the rise of Groupthink and why groupwork is not all it’s made out to be. As someone who is never able to muster my creative powers during group sessions, or able to think quickly enough to participate in some blah-blah-blah discussion, it’s great to learn that I’m totally correct in thinking that groupwork is the worst. Thank you, Susan Cain, for that: now just please convince corporate America of this.
  4. Parts of Cain’s chapter on acting extroverted are fantastic. As you might guess based on the 30% introvert rate she mentions throughout the book, there are a lot of introverts-in-disguise wandering around – we just manage to put our introversion in the backseat until we’re done with the important work. It never occurred to me, though, that there would be any conflict surrounding this effort to act extroverted, to in essence “pass” as an extrovert. Interesting stuff.

The gist? Don’t read this book if you want concrete advice on how to better succeed as an introvert in America. Do read this book if you want to know that there are others out there just as opposed to groupwork, open-plan offices, all events with more than three attendees, and spending a Friday night anywhere but your own living room, as you are.

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5 Comments

Introverts unite! LOL Much to my husband’s chagrin I prefer books to people most days of the week. -RB Austin

Comment by 2unpublishedgirls

Another introvert here. Also a teacher who will no longer insist on so much group work.

Comment by cellenbogen

I like your take on it. I enjoyed the book, and I was very interested in the psychology and science of introversion. I took the mention of sensitivity as not an “sensitive feelings”, but an overall sensitivity to the outside world, that we take in things more quickly and deeply than others, so we are overwhelmed and have to rest from all of the stimulus that’s coming at us. Granted, I am a sensitive introvert, although less so than I have been in the past, and could relate to that side of it as well. Interesting review, glad to have read it.

In retrospect, I do wish it had had more information about introversion in the professional/corporate world, because it’s something I run across a lot, where potential employers are very impressed with my skills but are concerned that I come off very reserved. I’d love to see the society view of introverts shift.

Comment by Samantha

I’ve been interested in this book for some time, so I was glad to see your review, even if it’s mixed. I’m interested in the sensitivity connection — I think I’m someone people assume is sensitive but I might be exactly the opposite. And I’m a horrible listener because my head’s always somewhere else. I really want a good book on becoming a better listener. Thanks for an interesting review!

Comment by curlygeek04

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, since I saw another good review on it. It sure sounds like a good read and I think it will be nice for me to read it.

Comment by Melinda




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