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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: Quiet

Well better late then never.  Two Mondays ago, the group met and had a very boisterous discussion of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

I am not exaggerating about being boisterous.  I mean, we always are a bit loud, but it was quite amusing considering the title of the book.  Also, for a book about NOT talking, we talked so much, I had to stop the discussion when we ran out of time.

But before we get to the details, here is the publisher’s plot summary courtesy of LitLovers:
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who invent and create but prefer not to pitch their own ideas; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts 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 the indelible stories of real people, Quietshows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Susan Cain charts the rise of “the extrovert ideal” over the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects—how it helps to determine everything from how parishioners worship to who excels at Harvard Business School.  
And she draws on cutting-edge research on the biology and psychology of temperament to reveal how introverts can modulate their personalities according to circumstance, how to empower an introverted child, and how companies can harness the natural talents of introverts. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves. 
This book won many year end awards last year including:
  • ALA Notable Books - Nonfiction
  • Goodreads Choice Awards
  • Library Journal Best Books
Now on to our discussion:
  • I did start with our normal poll: 9 liked, 2 disliked, and 6 so-so; but then I asked based on the quiz in the introduction of the book are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert and got 9 introverts, 1 extrovert, and 7 ambiverts.  My hypothesis was that the votes would line up and they did almost exactly.
  • The opening comments were all about how thought provoking the book was:
    • In our world of choice, it is interesting to think about the fact that sometimes you cannot choose how you will react.  Some of it is hard wired.
    • My sister is an introvert, I learned a lot more about her from this book.
    • It made me think about all of my relationships with friends, family, husband, etc...
  • The so-sos were all because of the way the book is written. These participants agreed that the “learning was great” but the writing was dry and didn’t always flow. Reading it all at once (as I did) is not the best idea.  We talked about how each chapter is almost like it’s own long form journalism piece.  So it is as if you have 11 New Yorker articles in a row.  Each is accessible, interesting, thought provoking, and well researched, but the so-sos in the group (myself included) thought it lacked narrative flow. I should point out that most of the nonfiction book discussion titles we do are usually high on narrative flow.
  • There are many retired teachers in my group.  As a result we spent a lot of time talking about how much this book would have helped them to be better teachers.  One person said she knows a few education schools where Quiet is now required. We tried to talk about ways introverts can be appreciated more in the classroom.  We knew there was no easy answer, but that teachers need to try to find a way for them to participate more.  A few participants shared strategies they used when they were teaching.  And a few more shared stories about former introverted students who went on to be successful.
  • Question: What role does culture play in whether you are an introvert or an extrovert?
    • Cain has a chapter on the Eastern introvert ideal vs the Western extrovert one.
    • Someone commented on how well she incorporated the big ideas throughout the book, like here were she built the case for ours being a nation where extroversion is the preferred way to be.
    • The culture of character in the East vs the culture of personality in the West was discussed at length. One person bemoaned that this book proved to her that the culture of character is dead in America.  Another commented on how character is seen as moral and personality is how society wants you to behave.
    • We talked about how this early chapter influenced the entire book.  She sets up the dichotomy and then refers to it throughout the book.  So we get examples of Wozniak and Jobs to see how one is introvert, one is extrovert, and together they built Apple.
  • This East vs. West discussion quickly moved into talking about the dichotomies of the extrovert vs introvert.
    • Who are the leaders we elect? Takes 99% personality to get elected.  We talked about her Al Gore example.  Americans choose flash over substance most often.
    • People are immediately drawn to extroverts, so this gives extroverts a permanent head start in everything.
    • One participant (an introvert) talked about how even Jane Austen noticed this dichotomy and how people are perceived because of their personality in her books.  She always made the person with the charming personality, the one you are first drawn to but who turns out to be the "bad guy" and the introvert, who is stand offish at first becomes the hero.
  • Question: For the introverts-- what is the most challenging about living in a world of extroverts. Excitingly, this question really got the introverts chatting away. I could barely contain them. See for yourself what they said.
    • I wait to take my turn and sometimes it never comes.
    • I am not loud enough; even if I try, I cannot do it.
    • I was a teacher, so I am not shy, but I am a true introvert because I sit back and observe for a long time before I participate.
    • All of the introverts talked about how they are not shy at all, but are introverts.  Introvert does not always equal shy.
    • I enjoy listening more than talking.  I can actually be quite a Peeping Tom.  But I choose to be on the sidelines deliberately.
    • You need to learn who you are.
    • All middle managers should read this book to better understand the 33% of people who are introverts.  "That would have helped me,” shared another introvert. My boss never understood me; it caused problems even though I was a good worker.
    • I like how Cain suggests you understand where you are on the introvert-extrovert scale and pick a job based on that.
      • BUT DO NOT LISTEN TO HER WHEN SHE SAYS IF YOU ARE AN INTROVERT BE A LIBRARIAN.  We were all upset by this stereotype, not just me.  Yes, you have to love to sit and read alone for hours if you are a librarian, but you also need to be outgoing and engage people in conversation all of the time. For someone trying to break stereotypes, we were upset she perpetuated this one.
    • People liked Cain’s idea of “free trait theory;” which says you can easily work out of character if it is something you love.  Many introverts agreed with this.
    • One introvert in the group wished that she had had access to this book during her working years. She would have understood much better how to work with her boss and co-workers.  She worked in an open office situation where they were encouraged to brainstorm a lot.  Cain helped her to understand why it had bothered her so much.
    • Another person: I had a job where I was always on but I am an introvert, so by the time I got home, all I wanted was peace and quiet.  I had loved this job but it took a toll on me mentally.
    • Said another: as an introvert, I hate icebreakers. They waste my time in meetings.  I do not want to force interactions and friendship with my co-workers; I want to get stuff done.  I like the meetings themselves, I listen and participate, but I don’t like the games at the start.
  • Now for the extroverts.  Question: What is the hardest thing for you working with introverts? As I suspected, they had less to say (ironically?) since they are the majority, many admitted that they didn’t spend too much time waiting around for introverts.  Here are the extrovert and ambivert comments:
    • We want to know what you are thinking, but you don’t talk! 
    • I’m feel like I am trying to pull things out of them. It is painful for me, but is it for them too? Do they want me to keep trying? They seem so uncomfortable, but maybe they like it? Help.
    • I ask introverted friends to tell me what they are thinking.  But they don’t.  So then I feel like I am walking on eggshells around them all of the time. I feel like I never know what they are truly thinking.  This is hard for me.
    • I want introverts to know that I am not trying to hog the conversation.  When a question is asked, I quickly have a fully formed opinion in my head and I can’t listen to anyone else until I get my thought out.  Once I get it out, it takes me a few moments to then transition to listening.  I want to listen more but it takes effort for me.
  • Question: Who are our introverted role models?
    • Rosa Parks
    • Eleanor Roosevelt
    • Ghandi
    • Mother Teresa
    • "My mother"-- said 2 people
    • Cain, our author.  We also appreciated the story about the power of her introverted Grandfather at the end of the book.
  • Question: What did we learn about the introvert-extrovert dichotomy as it applies to out relationships with loved ones: partners, siblings, children? Here’s what people shared:
    • My sister and I were introverts.  We could sit and read for hours alone.  Our brother was an extrovert.  He liked to read too, but could’t focus on doing it unless he was in a room with other people.  He could never be comfortable alone.
    • I love to go to a restaurant alone and eat by myself, my husband thinks I am crazy.  He can’t do it.
    • Introverted kids like to stay alone or inside, but parents often think they should push their kids to be social and be around people no matter what.
    • I think that with personal relationships extroverts look for introverts to ground them, at least that’s what I do.
    • You can choose your partner, but you do not choose you kid.  You child may be very different from you personality wise but you have to love and accept them.  You have an obligation to help them to improve themselves, but you can never force them to be someone they are not.  The anecdote in the book about the parents who were trying to force their introvert kid to change was heart breaking to all of us.
    • An extrovert participant said she was married to an introvert.  Her kids call their father when they need to talk about something serious because he is such a good listener.  All of their friends call when they have problems because they know he will listen.  He is an introvert but gets the most phone calls at the house by far.
  • I asked how people feel about Cain’s “Call for a Quiet Revolution?”
    • I think allowing for more quiet time in everyone’s life is a good idea.
    • I especially think that their should be more quiet time in schools
    • I don’t like the term “revolution;” I would prefer “integration.” Revolution goes too far in the opposite direction from where we are now.  Also, I think a middle point is best for everyone.
    • We can’t do any of this without a larger cultural shift.
    • I wish there could be real quiet in some public spaces like waiting rooms.
  • And now for the end, where I ask the participants to sum up the book in a word or phrase:
    • transformative [Please note: we all had a laugh because one of our biggest introverts blurted this out first]
    • provocative
    • illuminating
    • quieting
    • knowledgeable
    • accessible
    • interesting
    • dry
    • challenging
    • best read in sections with breaks in between
    • dense but worth it
    • repetitive
    • lots of examples
Readalikes: Let me start right away with other books about introverts, assessing character, popular psychology, how to help kids to succeed, etc... You can find more books like that here.

Now let me get to the less obvious choices.

Although I enjoyed the discussion, I did not find reading Quiet from cover to cover that satisfying as an entire book.  It felt more like a series of New Yorker articles put together to make a book.  That is not a bad thing.  Each chapter was interesting and though provoking, but together they were not as smoothly connected as I would have liked.

For this reason, I would suggest other books that are actually meant to be a collection of long form journalism all put together in one book that deal with interesting people and their personalities like The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean or Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

When I searched NoveList for other books that were about Family Relationships, with a reflective and thoughtful tone, that were also accessible and engaging, I got one hit: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz.

Multiplicity: The New Sceince of Personality, Identity, and the Self by Rita Carter also turned up in my NoveList searching.  Both books are about personality and how it influences behavior and are thorough and accessible.

Another promising suggestion I found by poking around on NoveList was Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without by Tom Rath.  This is also by a NY Times Bestselling author and is also very accessible.  Here is the NoveList description:
Challenging long-held assumptions about relationships, a multidisciplinary study reveals the essential elements of different types of friendships, shedding new light on one's personal relationships with co-workers, colleagues, family, and friends.
Next week, I am leading the third and final discussion of Ready Player One for Berwyn Reads, so look for a quick, bonus book discussion report next week.

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