Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

April 19, 2015

quiet Summary (from the publisher): At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

Reaction:

I thought Susan Cain presented her case for introverts in a clear and logical manner. She used anecdotes throughout the book to back up her points about introverts being just as (or more) intelligent, capable, and thoughtful people as extroverts, and most of the anecdotes were interesting.

I particularly appreciated the way Cain demonstrated that presentation is often valued more than substance in business settings. The part where she talked about Asian businesspeople in Cupertino taking classes to help them be more assertive and vocal was especially poignant. These were highly intelligent men and women who should have been able to go far based on ability alone, but who were reduced to having to take this kind of extra class essentially because they weren’t as loud and obnoxious as their extroverted counterparts.

I did have a few issues with the book. First, I would have liked it if Cain worked from a more rigid definition of introversion. She basically admitted she was using a cultural (read: pop psych) definition rather than anything found in an actual textbook. With such a flexible definition, it’s easy to stretch and mold the “data” to support her case. Almost anyone can be made to be an introvert — or at least have introverted tendencies.

Another problem I had with the book is that it started to feel very repetitive by the end. Then again, I guess there are only so many ways you can show that being quiet, thoughtful, deliberate, bookish, etc. aren’t negative qualities.

And finally, I wish Cain hadn’t ended the book with tips on how to deal with/overcome introversion. After spending all that time showing how introversion should be viewed as a positive rather than a negative attribute, it seemed odd that she would need to include such tips. Thus, I’m choosing to ignore that part and embrace the side of me that’s more comfortable staying at home on a Saturday night looking for an organizer for my pots and pans than going out with a group of people.

Rating:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a decent read that provides some good insights into what makes introverts tick and shows that they can be every bit as productive and valuable as extroverts. However, it’s not a hard-hitting book that plumbs the depths of the topic or that offers much in the way of further research. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain

March 28, 2015

tramp abroad Summary (from Wikipedia): A Tramp Abroad is a work of non-fiction travel literature by American author Mark Twain, published in 1880. The book details a journey by the author, with his friend Harris (a character created for the book, and based on his closest friend, Joseph Twichell), through central and southern Europe. While the stated goal of the journey is to walk most of the way, the men find themselves using other forms of transport as they traverse the continent. The book is often thought to be an unofficial sequel to an earlier Twain travel book, The Innocents Abroad.

As the two men make their way through Germany, the Alps, and Italy, they encounter situations made all the more humorous by their reactions to them. The narrator (Twain) plays the part of the American tourist of the time, believing that he understands all that he sees, but in reality understanding none of it.

Reaction:

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Mark Twain, probably back to Huck Finn in high school. But I’ve now gone through A Tramp Abroad and Life on the Mississippi in a matter of a few days, and am totally reevaluating my thoughts about Twain. He might turn out to be my favorite American writer yet!

The humor in A Tramp Abroad has held up surprisingly well over the years. I found it to be laugh-out-loud funny in a number of places, and absolutely loved his diatribe about the nonsensical assignation of gender to certain German nouns. As a former language student, I could feel his pain through every bit of that hilariously written passage.

If there was one thing I didn’t like about the book, it would probably be the portrayal of all Americans as oafish, rude, and unworldly. I had no idea that negative stereotype of Yankee travelers dated back so far!

Rating:

I truly enjoyed A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, not particularly as a travelogue, but more as a humorous series of sketches about odd people and situations encountered while wandering through Europe. This book makes me want to revisit all of Twain’s work, which is why I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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Charm City by Laura Lippman

March 13, 2015

charm city Plot summary (from the publisher): Reporter-turned-p.i. Tess Monaghan loves every inch of her native Baltimore—-a quirky city where baseball reigns, and homicide seems to be the second most popular sport. Business tycoon “Wink” Wynkowski wants to change all of that by bringing pro-basketball back to town—-a laudable mission that’s greeted with widespread cheers . . . and a muckraking front page exposé of his past in the Baltimore Beacon-Light. The “Blight’s” surprised editors are sure they killed the piece. Instead, the piece kills Wynkowski, who’s discovered asphyxiated in his garage with his car’s engine running. Now the paper wants former newshound Tess to track down the rogue computer hacker whose prank took a human life. But there’s more than cyber-crime involved her-e—and Tess is about to discover firsthand that trying to stay alive in Charm City is murder these days.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers below!

Liked:

  • One of the things I disliked about the first entry in this series was how much time the author spent describing Tess’s rowing activities and various gym workouts. That stuff was blissfully absent in Charm City (save for a few brief references), which made the book much more bearable.
  • I still like Lippman’s writing style. I think she gets the tone just right, and makes her prose interesting enough to be noticeably different (better) than other books in the genre without over-writing and taking too much attention away from the actual story.
  • There was less of the sexually liberated aunt in this installment than in the previous one, which I considered to be a bonus. Characters like that are best in small doses, and the aunt definitely overstayed her welcome in the first volume.
  • Is it weird that I thought “Charm City” was some kind of reference to jewelry? Click here for an example of what I mean. Who knew this is a nickname for Baltimore??

Disliked:

  • I hated everything having to do with Crow. I have a thing against grown men with long hair, so every time Crow’s physical features were described, it was just a huge turn-off for me. I’m glad Tess broke up with him to pursue Jack Sterling, and I was thrilled that Crow didn’t take her back after Sterling turned out to be the killer. That would have been dumb.
  • Why did Whitney and Tess have to fight? Why couldn’t they have had a healthy friendship that didn’t devolve into the usual catty competition over men, careers, and looks? Not ALL women are like that!
  • Jack Sterling’s motive for murdering Wink seemed a bit thin. The crime they committed together as teenagers was sealed, so it seems to me Jack didn’t really have anything to worry about. I get that the NBA would have performed a thorough background check on Wink before letting him buy a franchise, but not even they have the power to unseal juvie records.
  • The scene where Jack beat the shit out of Tess had me cringing. I hate even just reading about violence against women, so this was tough to take.
  • The references to beepers and car phones really dated this book. Yikes, I didn’t realize it was written 16 years ago!
  • I could have lived my whole life without knowing that there are people out there that buy retired racing greyhounds and let others hunt them down for a fee. I also did NOT need to hear about how the greyhounds’ ears were chopped off to make identification impossible. Good grief.

Rating:

Charm City, the second entry in the Tess Monaghan mystery series, was a solid effort by the author. She didn’t really bring anything original to the table, and there weren’t any real “twists” to speak of in this novel, but Lippman executes the crime story formula fairly efficiently — and with enough doses of humor to keep the reader entertained throughout. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

March 12, 2015

killing jesus Summary (from the publisher): Millions of readers have thrilled by bestselling authors Bill O’Reilly and historian Martin Dugard’s Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, page-turning works of nonfiction that have changed the way we read history.

Now the anchor of The O’Reilly Factor details the events leading up to the murder of the most influential man in history: Jesus of Nazareth. Nearly two thousand years after this beloved and controversial young revolutionary was brutally killed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God. Killing Jesus will take readers inside Jesus’s life, recounting the seismic political and historical events that made his death inevitable – and changed the world forever.

Reaction:

Having read and mostly liked this duo’s previous two books about Kennedy and Lincoln, I decided to give their third collaborative effort a try. But it was difficult to take Killing Jesus seriously, given its tendency to follow the page-turning, cliffhanger-chapter formula of modern thrillers. Still, I worked my way through to the end, which fortunately didn’t take very long.

Actually, if the authors had limited themselve to talking only about Jesus, the book probably would have been only one-third as long as it turned out. They spent many chapters setting the stage for Jesus’ crucifixion by detailing the political happenings in and around Rome at that time — even wandering so far afield as to give time to Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s hookups in Egypt.

But with the serious dearth of historical material about Jesus, I guess I can’t blame them too much for trying to pad the book with some kind of substance.

Still, I can’t help feeling that I came away from this knowing absolutely nothing new about Jesus’ life or death. And mind you, I am by no means religious nor have I ever read or studied the Bible. The bits and pieces I’ve picked up from casual religious discussions, movies, TV, and other pop culture references were apparently all that can be definitively said about Jesus’ life because that’s pretty much all these authors included about him.

Rating:

Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard is a book best suited to someone who doesn’t know anything at all about Jesus and wants to get a chronological overview of his life and times. This was a quick read despite its frequent detours, but the lack of anything new or insightful compels me to give the book just 2 stars out of 5.

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New bookcase for home

March 9, 2015

modern bookcase I have been buying ebooks almost exclusively for the past few years, but I still have a bunch of physical books leftover from my school days that I’m not ready to part with. They’re basically just shoved in a closet right now, which is obviously not a permanent solution. That’s why I’m currently looking for a cool bookcase for my living room or office.

I really like modern styles, and think this website has great selection of the kind of bookcases I’m interested in. Buying isn’t something that’s high on my list of priorities right at this moment, but maybe after my tax refund comes in I can give these another look.

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Abandoned books

March 8, 2015

I hate abandoning books. The ones I’ve left unfinished in my lifetime can counted on two hands and still bother me to this day. In fact, several times a year I dedicate myself to pushing through a book or two that I had previously abandoned. Sometimes the perseverance pays off (Portrait of a Lady, Gulliver’s Travels); sometimes it does not (Middlemarch).

So this post is serving as a reminder to myself of the books I need to revisit in the very near future:

  • The Wealth of Nations
  • The Crying of Lot 49
  • The Pursuit of Love (Mitford)
  • The Executioner’s Song (ugh, the mere thought of this one…)
  • Money by Martin Amis

I want to finish at least two of these before the year ends!

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The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

March 7, 2015

silent wife Plot summary (from the publisher): Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I was looking forward to a modern take on the whole “woman scorned” trope (none of the usual fainting fits and smashed perfume atomizers typical of Victorian lit), especially since this time the wife of 20 years was a common law wife. The premise was interesting, but unfortunately, the author never delivered.

Disliked:

  • Jodi’s transcribed therapy sessions were pure torture to read. I get that the author wanted to provide some psychological basis for Jodi’s later actions, but the method she chose was just so boring! And to have the result be sexual abuse at the hands of an older brother? How…trite.
  • I thought the ending was utterly ridiculous. Sure, Todd was an asshole, but are we to believe that TWO people (ordinary citizens at that, no criminal/mob ties at all) ordered a hit on him AT THE SAME TIME and for THE SAME DAY? And that the execution (no pun intended) of the crime would be so similar that the cops could plausibly pin the deed on Natasha’s father rather than Jodi? Riiiiiight.
  • There were absolutely no likable or sympathetic characters in this book at all. These people were all despicable in one way or another, which made reading about them neither enjoyable nor instructive.

Rating:

The marketing team for The Silent Wife did a good job of playing this up as another Gone Girl. This comparison is what piqued my interest in it in the first place. But this was NOTHING like Gone Girl, which at least had enough suspense to keep me turning the pages. The only reason I kept turning the pages of The Silent Wife is that I wanted the damn thing to end. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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Basic Kindle just $59

March 7, 2015

Amazon is celebrating National Reading Month by offering their basic Kindle (WiFi, with offers) for only $59! I know it’s just the barebones model, but that is still an amazing deal. I remember when the first gen Kindle came out and was an astronomical $499. I waited until the price dropped to $359 before buying it. And now it’s just $59? Awesome!!

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The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

March 6, 2015

the-antagonist Plot summary (from the publisher): A piercing epistolary novel, The Antagonist explores, with wit and compassion, how the impressions of others shape, pervert, and flummox both our perceptions of ourselves and our very nature.

Gordon Rankin Jr., aka “Rank,” thinks of himself as “King Midas in reverse”—and indeed misfortune seems to follow him at every turn. Against his will and his nature, he has long been considered—given his enormous size and strength—a goon and enforcer by his classmates, by his hockey coaches, and, not least, by his “tiny, angry” father. He gamely lives up to their expectations, until a vicious twist of fate forces him to flee underground. Now pushing forty, he discovers that an old, trusted friend from his college days has published a novel that borrows freely from the traumatic events of Rank’s own life. Outraged by this betrayal and feeling cruelly misrepresented, he bashes out his own version of his story in a barrage of e-mails to the novelist that range from funny to furious to heartbreaking.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Some of the emails were quite funny. The author clearly has a good ear for humor, and I admit I laughed out loud several times while listening to this audiobook.
  • The reader of the audiobook was one of the better ones I’ve heard in a while. He really brought the Rank character to life and read with just the right inflections. I also liked that he was from Canada (or else used some deliberately Canadian pronunciation for words like “out”, “about”, etc.). That was a nice touch given that the story was set in the Great White North rather than, say, Greensboro NC or somewhere closer to home.

Disliked:

  • The story takes way too long to unfold. This wasn’t even a long book, but it felt like it took forever for Rank to get to the point and reveal that he had caused an accidental death while trying to break up a potential bar fight. I mean, there were plenty of clues so the “reveal” wasn’t exactly dramatic. Why, then, wait so long to present it?
  • I wanted to learn more about Adam’s book and what set Rank off in the first place. The only thing readers ever learn is that Adam wrote a character loosely based on Rank, but gave the character some worse traits. That set Rank off on his epistolary rant. But what were the details of Adam’s book? That probably would have been more interesting than half the stuff with Rank’s father.
  • The epistolary form wasn’t really necessary here. All it did was to further distance the reader from the action — which was a mistake since Rank was already talking about stuff that happened 20 years ago. So this double removal from the main events just made everything come across as hazy and unclear.
  • The predictable swipes at our Facebook culture were neither original nor relevant. Again, I felt Rant’s Facebook adventures were an unnecessary drag on the plot that just served to forestall the end.

Rating:

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady had a few bright spots, particularly with the writing style and some of the humor, but suffers from poor pacing and a plot that lacks real depth. While I wouldn’t be opposed to reading something else from this author, I didn’t find this book to be that good. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

March 4, 2015

the-remains-of-the-day Plot summary (from the publisher): At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Regret is the most devasting emotion one can feel at the end of a long life, and poor Stevens had this in spades. I enjoyed how Ishiguro framed the story, unraveling it a bit at a time until we — and Stevens — come to realize that his biggest mistake was letting Ms. Kenton go. For someone who exerted so much effort in trying to do exactly the right thing, this was such a terrible epiphany.
  • So much of the book was understated and muted, just as one might expect from a gentleman’s butler. I liked that the reader was left alone to absorb Stevens’ thoughts instead of constantly being steered to certain reactions by the author.
  • Stevens’ musings on bantering and wit were funny, and I liked the way he forced himself to strive to become more adept at the practice.
  • The scenes with a younger Stevens and Ms. Kenton interacting and sometimes clashing in Lord Darlington’s service were very enjoyable. Ms. Kenton was full of brio, yet also extremely competent at her job, which made her a perfect match for Stevens. Why couldn’t he see that?!
  • The part where Stevens drops Ms. Kenton at the bus stop, after their two-hour meeting was positively heartbreaking. She revealed that she wasn’t unhappy with her husband, wasn’t thinking of leaving him, and wasn’t planning to return to work at Darlington Hall. but, she admits, she did used to wonder what might have been if Stevens had spoken up and made a move for her way back when. She is crying, and later, when a stranger on the bus bench offers a handkerchief to Stevens, we realize that he is crying too. And to top things off, Day 5 of Stevens’ motoring trip is not recorded in his travelogue. Good god, there’s that regret again.
  • Ishiguro’s prose is wonderfully engaging in this book. I don’t know if this is a fair comparison, but I’ll make it anyway since these are the only two Japanese authors I’ve read more than once: I think Ishiguro is far, FAR superior to Haruki Murakami and don’t understand why Murakami gets all the buzz.

Disliked:

  • Not much actually happens in this book, and some of Stevens’ reminiscences (especially about his father) tended to drag along quite slowly. I don’t mind character-driven novels, but felt this one included some very boring stuff.

Rating:

It’s always a risky enterprise for me to read books that have won numerous awards because of the high expectations automatically attached to them. But The Remains of the Day was well-deserving of every bit of praise it has received. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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