Quiet by Susan Cain (2012)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

quiet cover

In this fantastic and immensely informative book, Susan Cain introduces readers to the historical, social, psychological, and scientific aspects of the introvert-extrovert dichotomy and offers in-depth explanation about why the distinction is important for everyone to understand. Cain uses a wide breadth of research-based examples to demonstrate that introverts are not a personality subgroup that is less than or lacking in comparison to extroverts; but rather they are a group of people who have a unique and equally important set of skills and strengths that they offer the world. Introverts should be included, not forced to convert or conform, in decisions about how to design our classrooms, workplaces, and relationships.

Cain argues that beginning at the start of the 20th century, the long-valued character strengths of commitment, reliability, determination, and long-term goal setting began to give way to a “new” model of the ideal American: loud, outgoing, talkative, aggressive, comfortable with strangers or crowds, and quick to make choices. In other words: an extrovert. These skills allowed Americans living during the enormous changes of the Industrial revolution — including the rise of corporations, mass immigration to cities, decrease in work in single pursuits (farming, shop-keeping) in favor of working for large businesses — and workers who exemplified these new ideals were better suited to succeed in 20th century versions of education, business, and social life.

The worship of extroversion, and the demonization of introversion, soon had transformed education, advertising, religion, and psychology and even pediatrics. Quiet, reflective, people (especially children) who took time to make decisions, preferred to single-task, and needed quiet time away from others were seen as lacking and needed to be forced to change. As the century unfolded, American culture began to more and more reward extroverts and demand that introvert learn to “fake” skills of extroversion or accept lesser social and professional success. As of result, more than one hundred years later, the skills associated with extroversion have become the skills that represent “universal success.” It is has become widely accepted that louder, more outgoing, more assertive people are the ideal workers and partners.

Cain’s book seeks to transform that idea. She offers evidence that introverts, with their more subtle skills — long-range planning, aversion to risk, contemplative problem solving, and comfort with delayed gratification — can, if allowed to flourish, transform businesses, classrooms, research labs, and even personal relationships. Offering examples of well-known but successful introverts — Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein — and presenting fascinating new research from social science, psychiatry, and neurobiology; Cain presents an alternative way of viewing the traits of introversion; she offers examples of ways that introverts are a valuable resource in all areas of life; and she even offers concrete ways that introverts can set up their environment for success…and ways that the world can better accommodate introverts.

You can find Susan Cain’s wildly popular TED talk about her research into Introverts here: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

You can hear the author interviewed on the March 8, 2017 episode of Happier here: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2017/03/podcast-107-happier-susan-cain/

 

Celebrating the International Day of Happiness!

Today, March 20th, is the official International Day of Happiness, a day of global celebration and reflection: celebrating those things we have to be happy about and reflecting on our level of contentment with the lives we are living and whether we could do more to help others lives happier lives as well.

Happiness is a subject that I spend a lot of time thinking about — my own, but also that of my family, friends, and community — and, because of I love reading, the subject of many of the books that I read.

In honor of the International Day of Happiness, here is a list of some of my favorite books on the subject:

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

An author’s year-long exploration of what small changes we can all make to create a happier life for ourselves and our loved ones. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Reflections on how our home, family, and neighborhood all can contribute mightily to our level of happiness and offers ideas on how to cultivate habits that keep your home source of contentment and happiness. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/happier-at-home-by-gretchen-rubin-2012/

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

A habit-strategy book that explores how knowing yourself better can help you find the best solutions for starting, and keeping, good habits. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/better-than-before/

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

A fierce and fiery memoir about one woman’s discovery that she had the power — all on her own — to overcome addiction and build a life of love for herself and her family. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/love-warrior-by-glennon-doyle-melton-2016/

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

A book that introduces the idea that people have very different ways in which they feel loved and by learning what actions you can take to show how much you care, you can improve your relationships and strengthen your love for one another. This book has had profound impact on how I treat all of the people I love — my spouse, for sure, but also my parents, children, and friends as well. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/the-five-love-languages-by-gary-chapman-2010-edition/

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

A small and cheerful book about why it is important to cultivate simple, cozy rituals that help boost your happiness and appreciate all the good things — food, home, friends, naps — in your life. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/the-little-book-of-hygge-by-meik-wiking-2017/

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

A book about harnessing your creativity — in whatever form it takes — to enrich your life and help you share your knowledge and ideas with the world, all while embracing and encouraging those around you to do the same without judgement or competition. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/big-magic/

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Maria Condo

I am always astounded by what a profoundly negative effect peoples cluttered homes have on their lives. Condo preaches a form of simplicity that starts with one simple idea: throw away the junk that is filling up your house and holding you back. Not for everyone, but definitely thought-provoking look at how we confuse having stuff with being happy. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up-by-marie-kondo-2014/

The Far Side by Gary Larson

My kids recently “discovered” the wonderful, hilarious comic strip The Far Side. They checked out all 25 books in The Far Side Collection from the library and we all have been laughing over them for almost two weeks. Since each is only one panel, it only takes a few seconds to read and get the giggles. They have made us all so much happier!

A Walk in the Woods and Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

These books are not about happiness, per se, but they are so funny and that I laugh the whole way through reading them, which is a huge happiness booster! (Both are great audiobooks too!)

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/a-walk-in-the-woods-by-bill-bryson-2008/

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/neither-here-nor-there-by-bill-bryson-1992/

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (2017)

Carve the Mark is the newest science fiction YA novel (and first book in a new trilogy, I suspect) for Veronica Roth, the author of the wildly popular Divergent series. In this new book, Roth has taken a huge leap to outer-space, where she has created an elaborate a series of worlds, each with its own language, culture, religion, climate and political system. These far flung and diverse worlds maintain a fragile co-existence thanks to The Assembly, the universal law makers who travel around in a planet-sized ship policing and legislating. To aide the Assembly, each planet has three Oracles who predict the future and whose powers are harnessed to plan for disaster and avoid emerging conflicts.

The power-hungry Assembly has grown impatient with the current system in which they must rely on the vague and secretive visions of the Oracles. They begin to legislate the ways the Oracles divine the future and control how the predictions are “broadcast” to the universe. In short, they want the power to hear the predictions first and to be able to “interpret” them in ways that favor The Assembly’s power.

Adding another complex dimension to the story; each resident of the universe has a magical power, called their “currentgift,” which manifests itself at puberty. These gifts can vary from special culinary talents to the ability to kill with just a touch. What a person’s currentgift is can determine their place among their people: a poor child with an extraordinary gift may find he is elevated to the ruling caste; the child of an important family may be devalued if her gift fails to be useful.

The story’s action centers largely on the planet Thuvhe which is home to two peoples: the Thuvhet of the frozen northern latitudes and the Shotet of the southern hemisphere. Despite efforts by The Assembly, these two nations remain at war, each one convinced they are the rightful rulers of the planet. The Shotet are led by a cruel and violent ruling family, The Noavek’s, who have convinced themselves and their people that the Oracles have lied about their lack of legitimacy as rulers and set out to change the future by capturing the youngest sons of Thuvhe’s Oracle to see if they can force an alternative future from their minds.

As the book unfolds, two primary characters emerge from the — very, very large — cast. Cyra, the daughter of the Shotet ruling family, whose currentgift is the ability to cause immense pain or death to anyone she touches. Her violent, unstable brother, Ryz, leads their people in a bloody campaign to defeat their northern neighbors, the Thutve. His only use for Cyra is to torture and kill his enemies and he is blind to her growing unease with his tactics and the war he is waging.

Akos is a young man who, along with his older brother, was kidnapped from his Thuvhe family and raised as a captive of the Shotet. Tortured for years, the brothers are held as hostages because Ryz is convinced that one of them is fated to be the next Oracle of the planet. If that is true, Ryz hopes his years of abuse and brain-washing will allow him to control the future.

Roth seems to be drawing inspiration from Star Wars, X-men, Game of Thrones, and maybe a dash of Harry Potter. The combination is an ambitious, far-reaching, and deeply imaginative novel that transports readers into another universe, literally. The major drawbacks seem to be that the book is very humorless and relentlessly dismal, making it feel tiring at times to continue reading. Additionally, the book seems a but more complicated than necessary, but perhaps those details that seem superfluous now will illuminate the later books in the series. Overall an interesting, if complex, book.

 

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014)

How far would a teenage girl go to find out more about a terrible series of crimes that tore apart her family ten years prior? If that girl is Jenna Metcalf, the answer is very far indeed. At thirteen, Jenna has lived with the knowledge that a violent — but unexplained — tragedy led to a woman named Nevvie’s death: sent her father to a psychiatric hospital: and resulted in her mother disappearing without a trace.

Fed up with incomplete answers from her grandmother, and too young to demand much from the local police, Jenna decides she will take the search for her mother into her own hands. She does this by hiring two unlikely people to help her: a formerly famous but recently washed-up psychic named Serenity, and a down-on-his-luck PI named Virgil, who happens to be one of the police detectives who failed to solve Nevvie’s murder and mystery of her mother’s disappearance ten years before.

Both Virgil and Serenity try to refuse Jenna’s request for their help, they are both convinced that either Jenna’s mother is dead or she decided years ago to leave behind her daughter to start over…both options they feel will crush Jenna if revealed. Soon it becomes clear that some greater forces are at work and within hours of forming a team, the three find crucial pieces of evidence that re-open the case.

Following the few threads of physical evidence they manage to find, answers start to trickle in and slowly the three begin to believe that just maybe they might be able to find out what really happened all those years ago. Despite their initial belief that Serenity was a fraud, her intuitions begins to reveal information that would never have come to light otherwise and Virgil and Jenna reluctantly accept that Serenity’s psychic gifts are the key to solving the case.

Each of the three main characters take turns narrating the story for readers, giving insights into just how much all of them doubt that they will succeed but how none of them are willing to give up completely. From Jenna, we get a tough, street-smart girl whose determination fuels the search. From Serenity, we see a washed up physic who has lost faith in herself but who must admit this young girl and her quest for answers is stirring up some of her former powers. Finally, we hear from Virgil, who despite years of battling his personal demons and his sense of failure at having never solved this case, his detective instincts are still in top form and his contacts are critical in getting them answers. This unlikely trio does what a team of police officers was unable to do ten years ago, find out what led to the murder.

There is also a fourth narrator, Jenna’s missing mother Alice Metcalf, who appears first in the pages of the journals she left behind, but becomes more and more of a real character as the book continues. Through her reelections of the months and days leading up to the murder, readers learn critical details that will — eventually — give Jenna the closure she needs.

An enjoyable read and, never fear, it contains one of Jodi Picoult’s signature twist endings.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (2017)

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

Hygge Manifest2

“Hygge has been called everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy,’ ‘coziness of the soul,’ ‘the absence of annoyance,’ ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things’ or ‘cozy togetherness.'” Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allowed to let our guard down.” vi

This book, and the Danish lifestyle it describes, have become very popular in America lately. Hygge is the idea that creating a simple, cozy, warm home and opening it up to friends for simple celebrations is the secret to Danish happiness. Hygge is theory of living that encourages you to create a celebratory atmosphere all the time with a few simple “ingredients” — candles, low lighting, perhaps a fire, cozy clothes, delicious food, simple and inexpensive entertainment, and the company of people who make you happy.  And then, once all those things are in place, you take a moment to be thankful for all you have and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Wiking offers up few hard and fast rules for what it takes to create a truly Hygge environment. He does point to some ideas for people to try as they try to try out a Hygge lifestyle: candles and a fire for sure, good food jointly prepared, indulgent pleasures ready to be served up, cozy clothes, simple entertainment (think books, music, or games), and blankets, and no electronics allowed. Most important of all…loved ones! Friends and family, he points out, are the ultimate secret to happiness and offering them a cozy, relaxed placed to hang out without expectations or pretension is ideal for strengthening bonds and building happy memories.

Hygge, is not simply about about creating an atmosphere of cozy relaxation, but also about celebrating not doing, but rather being and enjoying. Americans feel an overwhelming compulsion to be busy every single moment of their — and their children’s — lives. Errands, sports, play-dates, outings, day trips…hardly anyone I know sees the value in spending time at home doing nothing; boredom is unheard of. In fact, I know very few children outside of my own, who can spend an entire rainy day on the couch, reading, napping, or doing art projects. We all are responsible for our own entertainment, and we all agree to do our own quiet thing, but all together. Usually, a decadent meal is simmering or roasting away in the kitchen; candles are always burning; and music is sometimes playing in the background.

A major component of Hygge is embracing, not resisting, the cold and wet weather. There seems to be a innate understanding among Northern Europeans that — while winter has its draw backs — it also presents a unique opportunity to create an indoor environment is the antidote to the outdoors: warm, cozy, dry, and lit by candles and a fire. Winter is a time for reading, napping, catching up with creative projects, and spending time with your loved ones. A winter celebrated and embraced, Hygge-style, offers a chance for everyone to restore and replenish themselves so that come summer, we are refreshed and ready to conquer the season.

I am proud to say that — before it was trendy — my husband and I embraced the Hygge ideals. We have always been unapologetic about relaxing at home; we have always tried to encourage our friends to come over at the last minute, just as they are (this is harder than you might think!); and celebrating the winter months as a time to hunker down and enjoy each other…because we know come summer, we will be busy enjoying sunshine, swimming, vacations, beaches, and relaxing by the pool.  Fall and winter are the months we use to recharge our batteries for the busy months ahead.

A fun book that brings some European ideas to an American audience…in my opinion, we could all use a bit of Hygge.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (2011)

I spent a windy, icy Sunday afternoon re-reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Upon finishing, I decided that this book is one of my favorite love stories: funny, touching, and romantic in equal measure. I dare you not to fall in love with Beth and Lincoln!

Attachments Cover

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Originally posted on May 14, 2016:

This is the fifth Rainbow Rowell book I have finished in less than two weeks. I think it is possible that I have moved from a fan of her work to a super-fan; a title I will proudly embrace. Since I have reviewed all of her books on this blog, I am giving her her own tag “Rainbow Rowell” so that other fans of her work can find all of my posts in one place. (Note: I purposely decided not to separate out her adult novels from her young adult novels since — speaking as the mother of a teenager — I believe them to be mild enough for teen audiences.)

Attachments is the story told from the point of view of Lincoln, a twenty-something man in Nebraska living in 1999, who is deeply lonely and unable to find a path to happiness. After weathering a staggering heartbreak in college, Lincoln largely closed off from socializing, choosing to focus on school and work. After finishing grad school, he moved home to live with his mother (a delightfully funny hippie) and slowly let go of the things in life that gave him happiness: friends, dating, sports…in short, fun.

It is only after taking a job at a newspaper office that has just upgraded its staff to computers that Lincoln’s life slowly starts to open up. Night after night, Lincoln comes to work well after the reporters are gone in order to read all of their email and report to the boss who is misusing their work-site internet access. Without having to build relationships with his actual colleagues, Lincoln is able to build fictional ones with them; coming to know them through their emails and web searches.

It is the close relationship between two female employees at the paper that most intrigues Lincoln and, even well past the point of propriety, he finds himself drawn to their email conversations. Lincoln comes to “know” Jennifer and Beth as funny, loving, kind women and he comes to learn of their most intimate moments: loves, losses, and heartbreaks while never once even seeing their faces. He longs to meet them, but feels trapped. Getting to know them after reading their emails for almost a year, he argues to  himself, would be starting out their friendship with a huge lie: like making money “off insider trading tips.” So he witnesses their friendship from afar and soon realizes that he is in love with Beth. And then, the magic starts!

What follows are a beautiful, if nontraditional, love story where the universe (or at least, the Internet) brings two people together who might have otherwise worked side-by-side without ever knowing one another.

Attachments is classified as a romance novel, but I feel that perhaps it is better categorized as a rom-com. Although the book is undoubtedly a love story, one of its most charming characteristics is its delightful sense of humor; and its quirky male narrator, Lincoln. In addition to being distinguished by its humor, the friendship/love story between Beth and Jennifer, which is central to the book, also lends more heartwarming appeal to what is already a unique and lovely novel.

The Blue Hour by Laura Pritchett (2017)

blue-moon-mountain-map-laura-pritchett

“And during this time you will simply decide to tell the truth. You are thinking clearly tonight. Clear as the stars. You love the sky at this time of night. You are in the l’huere bleue of your life, the blue hour, the hour of dusk, the hour when everything changes.” 7

Laura Pritchett’s gorgeous novel, The Blue Hour, tells the story of twenty-four men, women and children living on Blue Moon Mountain in Colorado. Together they form a community that is, at times, more like a family: intricately linked to one another for better or worse, their lives on the mountain made possible by their collectivism. Blue Moon Mountain gives it residents a life that is both sides of the coin: a place of solitude but also loneliness; freedom to live independently but also utterly dependent; surrounded by nature but also at its mercy. When one of the most prominent members of the town, Sy, commits suicide, it throws the entire mountain into a tail-spin, all suddenly questioning the meaning of life and waking up to the fact that they may not be making the most of the time they have.

Despite the complex challenges the characters face in their everyday lives on the mountain, and especially in the wake of Sy’s suicide, it is love that seems to preoccupy them all. Love — the thrill of discovering it, the ache of its absence, the devastation as it evaporates, and, for the lucky, the nourishment it brings to one’s entire existence. Through her stunning prose, Pritchett brings these stories to life, giving each member of the mountain community a unique voice and a chance to tell their story: to give their very personal reflections on love or love lost or love’s absence. All of the characters seem to instinctively understand that love makes the burdens of life easier to bear.

At its first stirrings, love seems so stunning and impossible and magical. Pritchett gives us several Blue Moon residents who are in the flush of new love. These characters are alight with the possibility of love, of what it could offer them: loneliness cured, stories shared, pain eased. “The only thing grand enough for a human life is love, this is where the wild and the gentle get sewn together.” 11

Alongside those stories of new love are those of fading love: couples who have grown tired or who have stepped out and away from love, either in reality or at least in practice. The stories of endings are filled with a sense of profound frustration that these characters seem to be letting go and disengaging and denying love the chance of re-blooming. “Meanwhile, you forget how ice-thin the space between love and not-love, fondness and irritation…you realize that the most popular story on earth is falling in love, the next most popular is falling out. Love most often dies by ice not fire.” 1-2

Finally, there are the Blue Moon residents who are aching for love and feel empty without it. These men and women are all battling — to varying degrees — with loneliness, depression, and anger at how much they long for what they do not have. Ranging in age and circumstances, these characters are bereft with what is missing from their lives and with the possibility that they may go forever without ever finding someone to share it. These characters tell stories that are simultaneously familiar and terrifying, because all readers are unaware of how it feels (or can imagine how it might feel) to live without love. Pritchett gives beautiful voice to the fears of those searching for love and the desperate hope they hold, always on the look for “a moment that contains the potential for love.”

The stories in the novel also offer reflections on the myriad of ways a person can choose to approach life. Will they choose engagement or detachment? Will they coax love out of something simple? Will they offer more, rather than less, to their lover? Will they stay on the mountain to see if love grows or move away in hope of lessening the pain of love unrequited? Pritchett brings to light all of the ways a person can make a million small decisions to retract from life, and consequently, from love.

“This pain was not as bad as the pain of being alone night after night, realizing the depth of untruthfulness of that mistaken belief, and that she’d let too much time slip by, been too picky, too selfish, too lazy, too indecisive, had let herself go smoke’s way, drifting along. It seemed unbelievable. It has simply taken her too long to realize that the door of love and family wouldn’t just open, that she was supposed to bang on that particular door more loudly. She hadn’t and now it was too late.” 158

Laura Prittchett’s prose is spare and precise, but somehow it always manages to convey so very, very much to readers. Simple but never easy. Although the stories of the characters are brief, they are also extremely intense: each one delving in to the person’s most vulnerable, painful parts…but doing so with the slimmest hope that by exposing these secrets they will not lose but win, by way of welcoming someone deeper into their hearts. Although these stories are solemn, the book never becomes heartbreaking. Pritchett pulls back just enough so readers still see a glimmer of hope, even in the darkest circumstances. The stories of sadness are interspersed with gorgeous love stories and those are filled with such hope that buoy up the rest. And the beauty with which she writes these stories is just too rich and lush to contain only sadness.

This book is a masterpiece and not to be missed!