Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Review of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

Okay, so I'm actually going to take time and review this book because I have so many thoughts that I want to remember for book group. I gave it 2 stars on goodreads, not because I hated it or anything, but because I just thought it was ok. However, I think it is going to really bring out some awesome debates at book group and being an extrovert (who likes a little conflict now and again) I'm excited!!

The book seemed in many parts to contradict itself and there were several historical chapters that seemed to only tell part of the story (I'm not sure if that was just to serve the purpose of the book or if they just weren't well researched). I know that so many of my friends who are introverted loved this book and I hope I don't offend with my low rating. I just thought I'd share my impression of the book, from an extroverts point of view. I really did go into this book hoping to understand my introverted friends and family better as well as learn what I could do to relate with others better. However, that was hard to do when I felt like the book was attacking me (an extrovert) at every turn. I seriously got the impression that the author is annoyed to the point of being fed-up with all things extrovert which left me wondering...is that how my friends and family feel about me? So in an effort to minimize my "loud-mouthed-ness", I'm writing down my feelings here so as to prevent my introverted friends from voting me out of book group forever! I can change...I promise I can change!

So...where to start...How about...Why do we need to tear down extroverts in order to build up introverts? At first glance this book doesn't seem to tear down extroverts. It's careful to state a couple of times that the world needs both introverts and extroverts working together. However she never really gets to the point of how they can do that...or why they would want to...because she never really says anything that an extrovert does well. The book tells us that introverts are smarter, better managers, make better decisions, keep in better shape, and are more faithful. It doesn't really leave much for extroverts to excel in. And even when she does delve into a strength that an extrovert might have she usually downplays its importance. “Maybe extroverts are better at some things than introverts, but those things don't really matter anyway”.

When you pay closer attention to the actual words used to describe extroverts within this book you find that the author sees no use for them whatsoever, carefully dropping hints that extroverts might just be terrible human beings. At different points in the book they are referred to as loud mouths, "speaking nonsense", and self centered. There are at least 3 times in the book where she makes sure to point out that the introvert she's interviewing is trim and in good shape while the extroverts are described as large or overweight. She even goes so far as to describe a bossy 5th grade girl as chubby...just in case the word "bossy" wasn't enough to put this young extrovert in her place. Even in parts where she falsely offers an olive branch she still manages to get in a backhanded compliment. At one point, while trying to describe that all of us fall somewhere in the middle on the spectrum from introvert to extrovert, she says something to the effect of "not ALL introverts are geniuses and not all extroverts get drunk and wear lampshades on their heads at parties" See how she carefully ties introverts to a positive behavior and extroverts to something bad. Another way to say this would be “Only MOST introverts are super gifted and only MOST extroverts are lazy drunks”. I understand that this book is meant to empower introverts but tearing down their extroverted loved ones doesn't help accomplish this. How does feeling superior help anyone become a better mentor, manager, or lover. Never once does she mention any of the pitfalls that might be associated with thinking you are better than someone else. Just pokes fun at the extroverted dummies and moves on. I would just think that if you wanted to empower introverts you would help them understand extroverts and how they can successfully work together, not how they might be superior. And for the record, even though introverts might be more sensitive than extroverts it doesn't mean that extroverts are fine with being trampled.

As I mentioned before I was hoping to learn more about my introverted family and friends. I thought it would be good to read about how better to work together. How we compliment one another. What I might do differently in my interactions with my husband and others. But the book made me feel like probably, my introverted friends were barely tolerating me as it is. The book seemed to make the point that the divide between intro and extro was too large to cross so maybe it would be better if I didn't try.

Second, the use of famous introverts and extroverts in this book left me scratching my head. If we are going to use history to learn lessons about ourselves then it would be most beneficial to study their entire life. Not just pick and choose the stories that will support the point they are trying to make. For instance the author points out many times that extroverted Franklin Roosevelt cheated on introverted Eleanor. Helping to make her case that extroverts are less faithful and worse at relationships. However, she never brings up the fact that Eleanor for sure had one ongoing affair of her own and is rumored to have had multiple affairs, with both men and women. I'm not trying to say that Eleanor wasn't still a very influential and inspiring introvert. Just that the author should tell the whole story. She also uses Kafka and Einstein as examples of successful introverts. And indeed both show us that introverts have given us many huge advancements. However, again, when we look at their lives as a whole we find that Einstein is a bit of philanderer who cheats on his wife and has an affair with his first cousin. While Kafka has multiple fiances that he never marries and is very into pornography. It's true their sex lives don't diminish their other successes but its hard to take her seriously when she is offering up a poem from Kafka as advice on how introverts can have success in relationships.

In another chapter of the book she talks about how introverts tend to do better in hard childhoods then extroverts do. A point that was well made until she brought in famous examples to make her point. First, she list introverts that had hard upbringings and still managed to shine. Very good. But then she mentions that it takes a good childhood to make a successful extrovert like Oprah. I would think by now that there isn't a person left in America who doesn't know Oprah's childhood story. She was moved back and forth between her mom, grandma, and aunts for most of her childhood. She was raped by two family members and had very little money growing up. Not exactly a privileged childhood yet she perseveres and finds success. Now it could be that Oprah is the exception to the rule, but even if she is, why use her as an example without discussing her whole past.

Third, I had a difficult time understanding the chapters about introverts being better managers. I truly believe that introverts can be wonderful managers. I'm not arguing her point at all, but what I didn't understand was how first she talks about how introverts are more willing to listen to others ideas but then follows it up with how much introverts want to work alone. So I wished she would have bridged the gap there for the reader better. How does someone who prefers working alone listen to others ideas better than someone who actually wants to work in a group? I'm not going to lie, personal experience might have tainted this concept for me too. My husband and my father are both introverts and both of them like to get their way. I even discussed this with my husband and he agreed that he preferred to make decisions himself over listening to others*. And if I'm being completely honest I'm an extrovert that likes to work alone. I like getting my way too, but usually when going head to head with my husband or dad, they are victorious in getting their way. Maybe then it's a gender difference thing coming into play too? Which quick side note: I felt like most of her relationship examples in the book where of an extroverted husband and introverted wife. Is the dynamic possibly different if the wife is the extrovert? I was hoping to read about more situations like that.

*My husband would like me to add that what he really said was that he didn't mind me making the decisions as long as my decisions were the same as his. How very introverted indeed. ;)  

Fourth, and this might be the extrovert in me, if we really want to empower someone we can't just point out all their strengths. We have to help them overcome their weaknesses too. I never quite felt like she did that for her readers. However, she does address in the book, that extroverts are more motivated by critical words than introverts are. So maybe she is trying to spare her readers feelings? Or maybe introverts are more self-critical than are extroverts so they don't need someone to tell them about their weaknesses? When I read a self help book I'm usually looking for three things. 1) Things I'm doing right 2) Things I'm doing wrong and 3) What can I do differently to turn my wrongs to rights. I think this book really gave me a lot to think about and helped me take some time for introspection but didn't really give me any new tools to empower myself or those around me. But then again I'm an extrovert so I'm not the intended audience. If you are an introvert and it did give you those tools then I think it accomplished its goal anyway. And maybe it's not really all about me ;)

There were a lot of things I just didn't quite understand about this book. Maybe I really should have spent more time studying in college than I did dancing around with lampshades on my head. I look forward to hearing what all of my introverted friends at book club thought of it. Like I said, it's not really about me, so in the end if it is helpful to introverts than I think it accomplished its goal. As an added bonus, if they finished it without hating me for being a loudmouth extrovert, I'd really appreciate it. I just barely finished apologizing to everyone about being a red personality (after we read the color code) now it looks like I need to apologize for being an extrovert too. Maybe I just need to read a book about being an extrovert so I understand myself more before I can understand others. I think a good title would be “Loudmouth: How to be an Extrovert In a World that Wants Me to Shut Up!”.

4 comments:

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  2. Julie, some really good points! I know a lot of people that like this book a lot and I can understand better why now that I've read your comment. Thanks so much for commenting! I can understand how extroverts might come across as pushy or wanting other to change to accommodate them. I'm glad this book helped people realize that they have a lot power in the way they behave and that they don't have to change just to suit what others think of them. I really value having introverts in my life who help keep me more even and help me to figure out a better way to say and do things from time to time. I'll have to have Alex read this book and see what he thinks of it too. I'm excited to hear from others at book group too. It was fun to see you this weekend!

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  3. I've never read it, but it's on my kindle as something I planned to read. I am definitely an introvert, but after reading your review, I don't think I'll read the book after all. I know everything you described would bother me too. If she wants to argue that introverts value the individual, than how can she stereotype so heavily? I've always hated books that do that! I know too many extroverts I love, and would be frustrated hearing any personality type bashed. There isn't a right or wrong personality. They're just different. Good review, thanks for posting it!

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    1. Liz, You should still read it! Most of my friends who identify themselves as introverts really liked it. I think really that the problem for me was the format of the book. Most self help type books I've read are meant to be of mutual benefit for anyone that reads them. Relationship books for instance usually state the strengths and weaknesses of both men and women so that neither party feels upset. So really I think I was looking for that in this book too but that wasn't really her objective. So really, it wasn't that the book was bad it was just different than my expectations. Really her purpose was to explain why introverts do what they do and to validate that. And it sounds like she accomplishes this for most introverts reading it. However, if you're an extrovert and are looking for a book that will help you relate with introverts better this might not be the book for you. Anyway, you should read it and let me know what you think. Maybe I was being overly sensitive.

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