Reactions to books like this can go in a number of different directions. They can be dismissed as money-making exercises in stating the obvious; they can be patronised as tacky self-help which takes no account of reality; or they can be the rather more dramatic ‘Oh. My. God. You have to read this. It changed my life!’.
The first is sometimes fair, but usually isn’t; the second likewise. The third is almost bound to result in one’s experience of the book collapsing under the weight of expectation. One’s also tempted, in such a case, to say ‘Come back and see me in 10 years. Then we’ll know if it really has changed your life’.
None of these reactions would be fair on ‘Quiet’, one of the more loudly trumpeted (if that’s not one level of irony too far) additions to a burgeoning literature on the perils of living as an introvert in an extroverted world. Step back from the extreme reactions that might tempt us, and we’ll see in Susan Cain’s book something with much wisdom, not a little generosity of spirit and perceptive cultural analysis. For instance her brief critique of evangelical Christianity is so on the mark that it leaves you begging for a whole book on that alone. Talking to one introverted pastor in the midst of an evangelical mega-church mall, she draws this conclusion: ‘…many evangelicals [have] come to associate godliness with sociability’. I’m a pastor and been around churches a long time. There’s more truth in that one sentence of Susan Cain’s then in many sermons I’ve heard or preached.
Through religion, classrooms, workplaces, marriages, friendships, media and more she highlights the elevation of extroversion as what’s desirable at the expense of ignoring, mocking or isolating the introverted amongst us. Thus her case is built, and guidelines offered – from hard personal experience of her own or clients she’s worked amongst.
Such books need to be built on something of a generalisation – and it’s those that provoke the extreme reactions noted earlier. Take these with the balance and qualifiers the author herself offers, though, and you’re left with an accessible, feet-on-the-ground piece of journalism which talks much sense. The closing chapters on romantic relationships and raising or teaching children will evoke nods of recognition as well as leaving you with applicable tools as opposed to easy steps to change your life.
So: read it, reflect on it, discuss it, apply it. It’s not a missive from eternity on which to build your life. It does, though, talk a lot of sense.
I rated this book 4/5 on goodreads.com