Book Chat

This month’s book reviews, which may contain affiliate links:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking I was thrilled to get the opportunity to review Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’ve been an introvert my whole life, and it’s not easy in a world of extroverts. Susan Cain is one as well, and this book was delightful. It’s well-researched, yet readable and interesting. It studies the differences between introverts, who are drawn to the inner world of thoughts and feelings, and extroverts, who are drawn more to people and activities.

Cain posits that introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population, and I’m skeptical of this. Or at least, if there are that many introverts, many of them must be pretty marginally introverted.

Cain points out the introvert’s dilemma: the US is a famously extroverted country. We tend to value  extroverts, those impossible-to-miss, life-of-the party types who are always surrounded with others, joking and laughing. Teachers tend to favor extroverted students. We tend to vote more often for extroverts than for the quiet introverts. Introverts are often told to “come out of your shell,” or “speak up more!” as if being an introvert is a disease rather than an inborn personality type.

Even the church (particularly the current mega-church variety) seems structured for extroverts. The book quotes a pastor who advises committees looking for a new pastor to ask what the candidate’s Myers-Briggs personality test score is. “If the first letter isn’t an ‘E'(for extrovert),” he says, “think twice … I’m sure our Lord was an extrovert.” The modern church emphasis on small groups, greeting people, and rock concert-style singing all tend to turn off introverts. “There’s no emphasis on quiet, liturgy, ritual, things that give you space for contemplation.” I’d have to agree with that assessment.

Did you know that your tendency towards being either an introvert or an extrovert is often tied to how likely you are to exercise, learn from mistakes, commit adultery, function well without sleep, and delay gratification? (You’ll have to read the book to see which traits match up with which personality trait).

There were so many things I found interesting in this book, and since I fit almost every description Cain offered, reading it was a little like free therapy. She mentions that introversion and extreme sensitivity often go together, and I can see this. Even as a child, I was sensitive to various things, “too sensitive for your own good!” My dad tells the story of me bringing home a worksheet from school in first grade, where we were instructed to put an X through an item the teacher named. I had missed one. When my dad asked why, I told him, “I know the teacher said ‘rabbit,’ but I just couldn’t make an X on that cute bunny!” And so on. Throughout life, I’ve been really sensitive to many things — others’ reactions, others’ troubles (I just can’t watch too many videos or read too many stories about suffering animals or people — it really drains me). I find it fascinating to read that this isn’t necessarily a character flaw. It’s just a neutral trait that I can’t do much to change.

Sensitive introverts also tend to feel more guilt, and Cain suggests that’s not always a bad thing. Perhaps due to this, they usually get higher grades, commit fewer crimes, and generally conform to societal norms to a much greater degree than extroverts. We need introverts in order to keep society functioning smoothly!

But once introverts graduate, the going can get tougher. They have a harder time in corporate America, which tends to value those who are loud and assertive. I’ve found this to be largely true. I wish, when I had been choosing a career, I had been more aware of my own personality type and how that might work well or not-so-well with various career choices.

Cain devotes many pages to the differences between Asians, who are more introverted as a culture, and Americans, who are more extroverted. She interviews  Asian students, who are amazed at the way American students speak up in class, even though they’re often “talking nonsense” in the Asians’ opinions. She finds that Chinese teens prefer friends who are humble, honest, and hard-working. American teens want friends who are cheerful, enthusiastic, and sociable. I think I would have fared better in life had I been Chinese :).

I’ve often wondered about an apparent dichotomy in my personality. Normally, I’m very quiet. But when I was teaching, I was quite animated and extroverted. Cain explains this with a “Free Trait Theory,” which suggests that we are born with certain traits, but we can and do act out of character in the service of work we value highly. Hmmm … that makes sense.

I really enjoyed this book, from start to finish. The sole downside to me was the author’s unfortunate choice of using liberal figures for most every example (Al Gore and Rosa Parks leap to mind immediately). If I could give the author some advice for the next edition, I’d suggest throwing a few bones to us conservative introverts by mentioning at least someone near and dear to us 🙂


Thin Wood Walls
Thin Wood Walls tells the story of 11-year-old Joe Hanada, who lives in Washington state during WWII. Everything changes for Joe’s family, which is of Japanese descent, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His dad is sent away to a prison camp, for no real reason. Within a few months, Joe, his mom, grandma, and older brother Michael are forced to leave their home and move to a different prison camp. You’ll feel the suffocating loss of freedom that Japanese Americans experienced at the time. It was sad to read about Joe’s patriotism, and Michael’s. Michael wanted to serve in the army (hard to imagine, since the US had treated his family so poorly), but he was unable to until near the end of the book, and of the war.

Finally, Joe’s dad is reunited with the family. But an easy-to-predict tragedy prevents much happiness. I found this fictional account an interesting introduction to an aspect of US history I knew little about. It’s billed as a YA book, but it’s excellent for adults as well.


"Mom's Letter" "David Todd"I really enjoyed Mom’s Letter, a short story by David Todd. I felt like I was there with Danny at camp, excited to get a Boy Scout award. Then, my emotions took a plunge when he abruptly learns that his mom has only days to live. Danny discovers a letter from his mom years later, and again, I was moved by how much Mom had said in just a few words. Her letter stirred thoughts: what lessons do we all hope to leave with our kids? Are we making the most of each day, savoring the good and enjoying the little moments, in spite of life’s difficulties? “Mom’s Letter” contains lessons each of us could benefit from. Recommended.


"The Magic Room" ZaslowThe Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters is named after a room in Becker’s Bridal, a shop in tiny Fowler, Michigan. The magic room’s walls are covered in mirrors and soft lighting, and prospective brides step onto its pedestal to determine whether or not a specific wedding dress is “the one.” This book tells the tales of several brides, most with heart-wrenching stories on the way to the altar: one was in a serious car wreck that mangled one hand and part of her face. Another waited 40 years to marry. Another waited until her wedding for her first kiss, a la the Duggars. Mingled in with these stories is background on Becker’s and its owners, who have gone back several generations. Their tale is bittersweet as well; the current owner is divorced and several family members have questioned whether all the hours and effort required by store ownership are worth the sacrifices.

This is a really touching book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Making it even more poignant is the fact that, just weeks after its publication this year, its author Jeffrey Zaslow was killed in an auto crash on his way to a book signing for this book, thereby depriving him the opportunity to see his own three daughters’ weddings (they’re all in their late teens/early twenties, and he was just 53).

The only quibble I have with the book is that Zaslow introduces several brides, then returns to each about 100 pages later. This may work if one reads the book in a couple of days, but when you take a few weeks (as I did), I found that I had to do a lot of flipping back and forth to remember just who he was talking about.

4 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Interesting reviews. I’m particularly interested in the first one, since in some ways, I’m very introverted.

  2. Were I a reader, I would enjoy several of these. In my past life, I HAVE BEEN a reader but it seemed to go out to play, for now.

  3. Oh my, I didn’t know the author of “Magic Room” had died. That’s very sad. On the introvert thing–I’m definitely one, yet I LOVE the mega-church. A Crowd to hide in! The music is what brings me to God. Nothing worse than bad music–I just shut down. Nice post.

  4. I’ve had Quiet on my library list forever – I’m glad to know it’ll be worth listening to on the morning walks (really, the only chance I have to “read” anymore!). Thanks for the reviews.

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