I am an introvert through and through. I like solitude. I enjoy sorting through my thoughts or dreaming up stories to entertain myself. I am shy at times and find it hard to operate in intimate sit-down-and-chat parties, where small talk is the mode for socializing. Last year, when I was hooked on TED Talks, I came across Susan Cain’s TED Talk. It intrigued me that someone who claims to be shy could do such a compelling, and at times funny, talk. Upon discovering that she had written a book about introverts, I became excited and immediately wanted to purchase it. But, being one of the many postgrads with a huge student loan, I was unable to quickly attain what I desired. A few months passed before I could purchase it.
Cain’s book is just as compelling as her TED Talk albeit longer. Like most nonfiction books these days, it is written for a mainstream audience and deftly mixes narrative with facts and data to engage the common reader and sustain his interest. Cain is a bit heavy with the narrative and sometimes the reader will tire of the stories but the reader will hardly want to skip them since they help to illustrate the facts Cain states. Basically, the stories are not unnecessary. Cain ensures that they all tie into the facts that she plans to expound on, or that they highlight those facts she has already stated. The narratives range from a peek at Rosa Parks’ personality at the beginning of the book to a profile on Asian students in California to stories on notable businessmen who benefit from being an introvert. These stories help to demystify some tales associated with being classified an introvert and highlight its benefits.
Some readers claim to have been overwhelmed by the narratives and sometimes I too had to take a break. But I enjoyed reading them all. I like Cain’s writing style, which is not overpowering and suffused with confusing data. When discussing facts and research, she breaks it down for those who may be unfamiliar with the scientific field that such research is geared towards. The ease in which she does this makes Quiet a joy to read. You don’t end the book feeling dumb for having attempted it. Still, it is written for a mainstream audience so I guess it is a requisite that she writes as such. But I appreciate it. I also like that she tries to relate to her reader. Cain includes her own story of allowing the misconception of being an introvert to overpower her. But she worked through it. This relation makes the reader believe in the author not only because she may be qualified to write the book but also because she understands what the introverted reader may have experienced.
Although Quiet is a nonfiction book that analyzes and discusses the introvert personality, it is a self-help book as well. Cain offers advice for those introverts who may see their reticent personality as a hindrance. The whole point of the book is to feature the benefits of being an introvert, something that society (well, American society) is blind to. Extroverts as well can benefit from reading Quiet. They can gain a better understanding of their introverted counterparts. There is advice in this book for relationships, parenting, and self improvement. That double gain—knowledge and self-improvement— makes this book even more appealing.
Another aspect of Quiet that I enjoyed is that Cain makes references to points, or similar points, mentioned in other books. For example, she clarifies the 10,000 hours needed to become an expert that Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his best-seller, Outliers. She also touches on a topic that is the basis of Ken Robinson’s books, The Element and Finding Your Element. The element is a state that people sometimes find themselves in when they are totally engaged in and enjoying their work—an activity that the person loves doing and is ultimately good at. Hours will pass by without them noticing and instead of tiring from such gripping work, they tend to feel energized. Cain refers to this state as “flow,” in accordance to the research of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Cain refers to many other works, even fiction as well, but these stood out to me. Such references, textual and otherwise, made reading Quiet a fun experience.
Overall, Quiet was an excellent read and I recommend it to all, whether or not a person is an introvert. You walk away from this book with a wealth of information and a deeper understanding of your peers, your family, and/or yourself.
By the way, I love the cover of the book: a smudged, smoky gray background with the word quiet in big red letters. How ironic! So, when reading this book on a train or bus, you can yell quiet to your fellow noisy passengers without saying a word. Totally great!
Quotes from the book:
“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.”
“Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.”
“It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.”