Monday, January 28, 2013

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

After watching Susan Cain’s passionate and funny TED talk, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her book Quiet: The Power ofIntroverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. 

I just had a discussion with friends over lunch about introvert/extrovert personalities and the Myers Briggs Type testing we've all endured as a part of the recruitment process. 

So I was all really quiet prepped and eager to dig into the issue of introverts. 

I found Quiet an interesting and thought provoking read. Cain makes some really good points about how our culture rewards and tends to overvalue extroverted behaviour.

I was cheering big time at her critique of open plan office and the fact that they are not conducive to actually thinking and working. 

Being at the introverted end of personality scale, I found it reassuring to recognise my behaviour and have it explained and also valued. While not a ‘self-help’ book in the truest sense, Cain’s book does provide a reassessment of the ‘power’ of introverts. 

As Jon Ronson writes in his review:

“It's also a genius idea to write a book that tells introverts – a vast proportion of the reading public – how awesome and undervalued we are. I'm thrilled to discover that some of the personality traits I had found shameful are actually indicators that I'm amazing. It's a Female Eunuch for anxious nerds. I'm not surprised it shot straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.”

But unfortunately I was never really totally absorbed by the book and I found myself skimming through chapters.  

The main issue was the constant and exhaustive review of the academic research which I was just not that interested in.  Rather than a quick summary, Cain would devote pages to detailing a journal article and the research it was based on.

I also found the chapter: "Soft Power - Asian-Americans and the Extroverted Ideal' a little problematic. I was very uneasy about some of inherent essentialist arguments and over generalisations being made. 

What I enjoyed the most and what makes Cain's book worth reading is where she writes about her personal experiences and talks to other introverts. For example, she writes about forcing herself to attend an Anthony Robbins 'power' seminar and also where she ends up going to an introverts retreat and actually hating all the silence and non-speaking! 

Overall, I'm really glad I read Cain's book and she makes a powerful and eloquent argument for valuing introverts.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

It’s always a treat to find a book with the all things you love in life.

Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ticks all the boxes for me. It contains all these elements:
  • bookstores and working in bookstores
  • set in San Francisco - my favourite city in the world
  • a secret book club filled with eccentric characters
  • fonts – which play an important part in the story
  • detour in New York – my second favourite city.

The story begins with Clay Jannon, an out work web designer, who finds himself working the night shift at an old fashioned bookstore:Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  

Because of the economic downturn,  Clay mourns for a web design career cut short before reaching its peak.

So instead off all things digital he now finds himself in a world of print and dealing with borrwwing cards and catalogues. Oh and he also get's involved in a secretive book club.

Clay's adventures takes him from San Francisco to New York, with a detour onto Google’s campus.

Along the way Clay has help from his childhood best friend who is now mega rich and owns a lucrative start up, an attractive Google employee and flat mate who works at Industrial Light and Magic. 

See how much fun it is already? This book revels in it’s all its geekiness and I can’t remember a book I have enjoyed so much.

Needless to say, Dungeons and Dragons and sci fi are heavily featured in the story!

As well as a rollicking adventure book, what makes Sloan’s book a real standout is that it’s absolutely laugh out funny.  

He writes with such a dry wit, taking a very sly, but also endearing take, on the whole tech start up culture in SF and the relationship between print and digital, ‘old knowledge’ and ‘new knowledge’.

Sloan is a former Twitter employee and I also loved all the details about Google and the way it operates.

As Kevin McFarland notes in his review

Sloan’s depiction of startup culture in San Francisco is positively dead-on and bitingly funny, and taking the story to Google’s Mountain View campus offers plenty of opportunities to poke holes in the puffed-up egos of the digital behemoth.
In the end the book is a passionate embrace of all things digital and print.

As a passionate reader who has embraced ebooks in the past year it also really resonated with me. What have we gained and what have we lost with the shift to ebooks?