Friday, February 22, 2013

quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking

Like many introverts, I've often felt misunderstood. In both school and the workplace, extroverts are the ideal. And while I've come to love my own introversion, it's clear that our society is becoming more outspoken all the time. It's all about group meetings, open space floor-plans, parties, networking, oral presentations . . . 

If you'd rather stay home on a Saturday night with a good book sometimes or engage in smaller, one-on-one conversations (as opposed to large group discussions), you're often seen as odd or flawed. But of course just as extroverts have their talents, so do introverts. We're vital to society. With our great levels of focus and concentration, we make excellent inventors-- dreamers, artists, writers, scientists. Without us and our introverted natures, the world would be void of some pretty amazing things (the theory of relativity, Apple computers, and Harry Potter, amongst others). And with this book, Susan Cain proves it.

I've only gotten into nonfiction books recently because in the past, I assumed they were all boring. "Quiet" is the perfect example of why I should have been reading more nonfiction all along. It's clear, well-researched, and full of information. Not once was I bored. Cain is clearly very interested in the dynamics of introvert/extrovert relations herself, and so is able to make the subject interesting for her readers as well. Nearly every page contains some nugget of research you'll want to share with friends, family, and coworkers.

For example, did you know . . . 

  • That extroverts are more likely to commit adultery and divorce?
  • That introverts are the best leaders of extroverts? And extroverts the best leaders of introverts?
  • That solitude is a key component of creativity? 
  • And thus, in a group of very creative people, you'll mostly find introverts?
  • That open-plan offices reduce productivity?
  • That group brainstorming is not as effective as individual brainstorming?
  • That a reactive amygdala is an indicator of introversion (and can be tested in infancy)?
  • That some cultures (China and Japan, for example) have an introvert ideal?
  • That extroverts are more reward-sensitive and prone to gambling and taking risks?
The book is full of cool facts like this, as well as the research to back them up.

I also love Cain's humility. She acknowledges that few of us are completely introverts or extroverts and that we won't conform to every study she cites. She knows well that many people who seem to be extroverts are introverts at heart (they've just learned to stifle away their true selves in order to pursue certain goals). And after relating several research studies, she goes on to say that these studies are not definitive.

But this book is definitely not just for introverts. As an introvert, it helps you understand yourself. As an extrovert, it will allow you to step inside the heads of your introverted friends, family, and colleagues. I only wish that more people would read it. If all educators and office workers read "Quiet," I'm certain that a great number of changes would occur in schools, workplaces, and even homes. After all, one-third to one-half of our society is composed of introverts. If we could accommodate their needs as well as we do the needs of extroverts, we could be a happier and more productive society overall.

TITLE: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
AUTHOR: Susan Cain
PUBLICATION DATE: 24 January 2012
DATE FINISHED: 21 February 2013
VERDICT: 5/5 stars. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

american gods

Just three days before Shadow is due to be released from prison, his wife Laura dies in a car accident. Aimless without her, he is persuaded into employment by a mysterious and magical man named Wednesday. On a road trip across America, they stop and visit Wednesday's various acquaintances and colleagues. And gradually we learn that Wednesday's business involves a war of gods. 

You see, in this world gods exist because people believe in them. So as immigrants spread out across the United States through history, they brought the gods from their homelands with them. Now, these ancient gods are in conflict with the new gods of America (media, technology, drugs). Acting as Wednesday's bodyguard, Shadow becomes involved in a mythic battle of epic proportions.

First off, this book is really long. I read Gaiman's preferred text, which adds another 12,000 words to the already lengthy novel. And like always (excepting Harry Potter and a few choice others), I desperately wanted about half of this tome edited out. I don't think the story deserved 500+ pages, but I pushed through it because I loved the concept. A world where gods exist (and in a realistic, dark, gritty way) is just a fantastic idea. 

It all comes down to those two things for me. The concept is solid and interesting, but the length ruined it. It felt drawn out and I got bored with all the traveling and meeting of gods. If the plot had been a bit tighter, I think I would have really enjoyed it.

I'm still excited to read more of Gaiman though. He's got a great imagination.

TITLE: American Gods
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
DATE FINISHED: 11 February 2013
VERDICT: 3/5 stars. Darkly imaginative but much too long.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

ttt: favorite characters in classic literature

This week's Top Ten Tuesday on the Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Characters in X Genre. I wanted a fairly limited genre (as opposed to, say, mainstream/literary fiction), so I'm going with the classics. I've read a fair number of classics in my day, but not so many as to be overwhelming. And I like that I've got a wide variety to choose from, both in time period and in character personality. In no particular order, here are my favorites.

Top Ten Characters in Classic Literature

1. Jo March (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 1868)

2. Peter Pan (Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, 1911)

3. Sara Crewe (A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1905)

4. The Little Prince (The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, 1943)

5. Dorian Gray (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde, 1890)

6. Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)

7. Simon (Lord of the Flies, William Golding, 1954)

8. Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850)

9. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960)

10. Scarlett O'Hara & Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936)

Who are your favorite classic literary characters?
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