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

quiet

Social media is currently favouring the introvert, the empath, and the highly-sensitive type, so it’s no surprise that bookshelves are becoming populated with literature exploring these trends.  ‘Quiet’ is a book about the power of introversion, which challenges the Western expectation of ambition and turns to biological and social studies to provide a hefty backing.

Chances are you’ll pick up this book as an introvert looking for self-validation. But what of the reader who identifies as a gregarious extrovert? According to Cain and the multiple studies she cites, an outgoing, chatty extrovert often has less intelligence and originality than those who opt for peace and solitude.

Cain asserts that a show pony may get the attention but the nerdy brainiac will ultimately inherit the earth. She makes introversion so appealing that I suspect many readers will come away convinced it defined them to a T, relieved that, finally, someone understands them, whether this is true or not.

The audience seems to be the savvy, upper middle class US business person.  Many of the discussions focus on the implications of introversion in the workplace and while the book employs examples to back the arguments, I found it too limited in its corporate focus.

Cain only seemed to interview wealthy, successful types, defining them by their job roles and career trajectories. This consistent use of famous and successful figures only serves to alienate those sensitive readers who already feel they aren’t up to scratch. I’d personally have liked some gender-based discussion – a large portion of CEO’s and interviewees were male – with more focus on relationship interplay or motherhood to potentially expand the dialogue further.

‘Quiet’ might have lost me quickly and this would have been a shame considering the more personal, human element which evolves in the final third. It was here I identified why I felt so uncomfortable at school and why I had to use excessive force when dragging myself to nightclubs ten years ago.  According to Cain, the key is finding your ‘sweet spot’, that precarious balance that meets your need for alone time with your desire to be with others and get the job done.

‘Quiet’ outlines what it means to be born with an introverted temperament. It certainly allowed me to understand myself better but, for those seeking information outside of the work arena, you’d best not rely on this book alone.

3/5 Stars.

‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov – Review

lolita

Many books are read for the pleasure of their prose – ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Villette” spring to mind here. Those novels, far from being plot-driven, entice the audience with the delights of word choice, vivid description and an intimacy between the protagonist and his/her observer.

Lolita tries to include itself in this category but, in my opinion, drastically falls short. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed parts of the book and found the writing fascinating, if not entirely enjoyable. But after the unease about the taboo subject of underage sexual activity wore off, I found myself getting bored. It just seemed labourious: Humbert and the underage Lolita travelling aimlessly from place to place across America with no pace or magnetic narrative to spur me on.

After the drama that leaves Humbert the primary guardian of our young nymphet, the whole book seems to lose it’s energy. I felt like Nabokov could have removed a massive chunk from the middle of the story and still got his point across (whatever it was).

I understand why it’s notorious; it’s controversial because Humbert is disgusting. We are invited to sit in his mind and watch a pervert at work. But apart from ticking it off the bucket list, I didn’t get much out of it.

‘The Happiest Refugee’ by Anh Do – Review

the-happiest-refugee

This was a nice, pleasant read.

The Happiest Refugee details Anh Do’s journey from a poverty-stricken child in Vietnam to a man considered one of Australia’s friendliest comedians. The main players in this book are his family who are integral in his escape from a third-world situation to an abundancy on Australian shores. Anh’s mother was always a hard working and fierce heroine, his father, plagued by early memories, was tormented for many years and figuratively spilled ink into the relationship with his wife and kids.

Do details the healing that came about and the tragedies occurring still in his extended family. He speaks of his own wife and kids and of his rise to stardom. Anh Do is a likeable person and, as such, the book is just that: likeable. I personally could have done without descriptions of his experiences on reality T.V. but overall, Anh invokes in his reader a sense of gratitude for the rich life we have.

 

‘Villette’ by Charlotte Bronte – Brief Review

villette

Fast-paced this novel is not. Instead, Bronte basks in characterisation of emotion and virtue to deliver an epic novel that delves deep into the psyche of one woman, Lucy Snowe. Through the protagonist’s observations we discover who she is; the layers that make a human, the strength and fortitude reminiscent of her time and situation. We are with her as she battles oppression, sexism, xenophobia, religious quandaries and the trials of love in all it’s guises.

Read this for the writing. Oh and be prepared if you don’t know any French! My review sits at 4.5 stars, shy of 5 only due to the relentless passages in a foreign tongue that left me impatiently wondering what was going on and why.

‘An Elegant Young Man’ by Luke Carman – Review

an-elegant-young-man

I chose this randomly for a reading challenge and, having finished about ten minutes ago, am feeling a little underwhelmed by the experience.

Starting with ‘Whitlam and the Whitlam Centre’, I was intrigued by the ease of writing and tight use of the everyday in painting pictures that struck a relatable chord. The stories weaved by Carman focus on a type of grey, accidental friendship that sticks in the mind even though there is no potential love lost. He presents common racist attitudes that are alarming in their accuracy, and his references to authors, titles, events and literary opinions will, no doubt, please and entertain those within or surrounding the writing industry. Or perhaps just those who love to read the classics.

However, by the penultimate ‘Rare Birds’, I was confused as to whether I was reading short fiction or an autobiography separated into small, appetiser-size chunks. Recurrent characters linked the stories, which was all well and good, but the storyteller in each is either clearly or accidentally Carman himself; I found it difficult to engage with the narrator who, several times, came across as beige in relation to the potential narrative.

‘An Elegant Young Man’ is a pleasant read but I am not sure I find it purchase-worthy.

‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling – Brief Review

the casual vacancy

You know you’ve enjoyed a book when the author manages to make it feel a whole lot shorter that the 500-page epic that’s weighed down your handbag for a week and a half.

I set out with trepidation considering not only the questionable reviews, but the pigeon-hole Ms. Rowling seems to be shunted into. However, I found The Casual Vacancy to hold surprising dramatic intrigue. It’s a novel about a small town; a story of its characters and politics, its tensions and frustrations. I found myself genuinely interested in what the people of Pagford were up against and how their choices would carry them forward.

It’s not a light and fluffy novel: some parts made me cringe and wince and read with only one eye. And at those moments it was easy to wonder whether the author was intentionally dropping in profanities to show that she can achieve something more than a YA story on wizards and magic. On the other hand, if the author was unknown and I was unfamiliar with previous work, would she still be judged in this way?

Rambling reviews aside, The Casual Vacancy is engrossing and readable. Highly recommend.

‘how to be both’ by Ali Smith – Review

how to be both

This is a difficult book to review. It exists in two halves: the stories of Francesco, the Italian renaissance painter, and George, a teenager stuck in modern-day Cambridge.

‘how to be both’ initially feels experimental and clunky and I found myself sighing inwardly at the prospect of a laborious read. However, moving through the artists narrative I found myself captivated, although I am left wondering exactly why. The journey through a painters personal history in relation to the time period was fascinating (for me as a philistine anyway) and Smith described vividly the artists life and struggle as a grieving 15th century adolescent.

The second part read more like YA with its morose undertones, identity confusion, bullying, school problems and realisation of parental fallibility. The book is completely unique in its subject threading; I would give it just short of five stars however as the final third of the book seemed to continually try proving the notion of ‘life imitating art’. Smith kept waxing philosophical, particularly through George’s mother, and I started to get frustrated with the repetition.

Overall, a fantastically individual novel that could be discussed at great length. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up on school reading lists in the next couple of years.

‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent – Brief Review

Burial Rites

A superbly written novel about a woman named Agnes and the final months leading to her execution. Set in Iceland in the 1820’s, Kent weaves a tale based on historical fact about the murder of two men in their beds by one man and two women, the latter including Agnes M.

Slowly the thread is pulled and the pages unravel the characters and events surrounding the murders until the reader grows not only fond of Agnes but desperate for her life to be spared. Along with the family Agnes is sent to reside with until she is beheaded, the audience grows attached to the main character and are truly distressed by the injustice of her eventual fate. Kent relies on symbolism heavily but does not complicate the pages with any unnecessary words.

An easy, solid read. Recommended.

‘Holiday in Cambodia’ by Laura Jean McKay – Brief Review

Holiday in Cambodia

Laura Jean McKay is a fabulous young Australian author whose personality and experience spill from the pages of this short story collection. I met Laura when she ran a Short Story Workshop at the Wheeler Center in Melbourne. She is approachable and kind as a teacher, not to mention knowledgeable in her approach to creative writing.

The stories in this book focus on Cambodia and it’s goings-on, whether it be in the lives of locals, tourists, or those who find themselves in this complicated land because of charity/ work commitments. I would have given it five stars but I found that I didn’t connect emotionally with many of the stories as some of the points being made seemed slightly weak and could have been further developed.

Overall, a proud addition to Australian Short Story writing.

‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion – Review

The Rosie Project

This was so much fun to read! The Rosie Project details the quest of Don Tillman as he logically tries to find a suitable woman to make his wife. Part Sheldon Cooper and part Sherlock Holmes, Don takes an extremely structured approach to all facets of his daily life including the newly formulated Wife Project, which involves a comprehensive and ludicrous applicant questionnaire. The participants, willing or otherwise, need to meet certain criteria in order to be considered potential life partners and, from here, Don begins his search.

A fabulous rom-com the likes of which I can envision Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck dramatizing, the story takes many hilarious and unpredictable turns as Rosie shows up to demonstrate to Don that 1. he is weird, but that’s okay and 2. love isn’t always what we imagined it to be. In fact, it rarely is!

Reading this really boosted my mood and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is feeling sad, grumpy, or is reaching for that third class of wine when they know they shouldn’t. Let this book perk you up instead.