Oh, to be so engrossed in a book that you’d rather read it than do anything else.
I find this state is not so easy to come by, even for an avid reader like me. So here are some of my favorites in the page-turner category. I’d appreciate if you’d share yours, too!
This is an acutely observed look at life inside a New England boarding school, as told from an outsider student from Indiana. I picked up this book the minute I heard about it, because I related to the story line. Like the PREP protagonist, I am not from a preppy background. But I went to Princeton back in the 1980s, when it seemed that all the students were from elite private schools and possessed of a breathtaking savoir faire. I thought my mother had taught me decent table manners, but my classmates had an elegant way of holding their utensils that would forever elude me. They also pursued mysterious passions, like trying out for “crew,” a sport I had never heard of before. I thought they were competing to make extra money washing dishes at the dining hall, and was puzzled by why they needed the cash.
If you’ve ever felt like an outsider in a culture that initially seemed more dazzling than the one you came from (and even if you haven’t!), this book will keep you up at night.
THE SONG OF ACHILLES – by Madeline Miller (novel)
Recently the Wall Street Journal asked me to name my favorite books of 2012, and this novel was at the top of my list. Here’s what I wrote in the WSJ:
“This debut novel, set during the Trojan War, is part page-turner and part history lesson, but most of all it’s an urgent philosophical inquiry into the nature of courage. Ms. Miller asks whether heroes need be superhuman, like Achilles, or whether they can be ordinary, like Achilles’ close friend Patroclus—and all of us who read this beautifully written book.”
HAPPENS EVERY DAY – by Isabel Gillies (memoir)
Isabel Gillies is the best of company, and here she tells the most compelling of stories. One day her husband is hanging photographs in the guest bathroom, tenderly documenting the cocoon of their family life. A month later he’s left Gillies and their two young sons for an alluring literature professor. It’s a compelling tale – how could such a thing happen? How will Isabel handle the shock and devastation? What were the fault lines in their marriage? But what really illuminates this book is Gillies’ presence: warm, goofy, and intelligent. Her follow-up book, A YEAR AND SIX SECONDS, which describes her return to single life, is a less compelling story — but I loved it anyway just for the pleasure of her company.
The story of a mountain-climbing disaster on Mount Everest, in which eight climbers were killed during a storm. Krakauer is a first-class writer, and even if you know nothing of mountain climbing, and care even less, you’ll be riveted.
I read this at a transitional period of life, a time when I wasn’t happy with my choices in both love and work, and strangely even though this is a tale of disaster, it had me wanting to fly off to Nepal with crampons strapped to the soles of my feet. I never did take up trekking or climbing, but the very idea that I could showed that life held many paths besides the one I was on.
OK, this is not a classic page-turner. But you’ll burn through it anyway for its power to illuminate the kind of life you should be living. Mihaly C. argues that one of the highest states of being is the state of flow – when you’re totally engaged in an activity, riding the narrow channel between boredom and anxiety.
I talk about this book a lot, and try to live by it even more.
Collins, who was once the U.S. poet laureate, says he’s an extrovert, but if his poems are any indication, he’s a homebody like me. He writes about exciting things like looking up words in the encyclopedia, and walking to town for a gallon of milk. But he’s charming and insightful, and I love his work so much that when I went into labor with our first child, my husband ran back to our apartment to bring one of Collins’ books to the maternity ward. He thought I should have it while we were waiting for the baby to come. (One of the highlights of participating in TED last year was getting to meet Collins, who also gave a talk, and telling him this story. He said it was a first.)
The Lanyard is one of my favorite Collins poems – it will speak to you if you’ve ever been a mother – or a son or daughter. Here’s an excerpt:
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
THE ORGANIZATION MAN, by William Whyte, and ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE, by Richard Hofstadter (cultural critiques)
If you have ever felt weird or out-of-step because you like to sit around and think, I can’t recommend these books enough. I read them while researching QUIET. I was trying to trace the history of what I call “The Extrovert Ideal” – the Western bias for people who are bold, alpha, and assertive – and found and devoured these books. (You’ll find them referenced in Chapter 1 of QUIET). They were both written in the middle of the 20th century, a time when Americans were trying to break the shackles of their conformist, Happy Days culture.
So what do these books have to do with our life today? Everything. You’ll see that things haven’t changed as much as we think. This passage from THE ORGANIZATION MAN, critiquing the glorification of groupwork in companies, could have been written today (in fact, I wish I had written it):
‘The most misguided attempt at false collectivization is the current attempt to see the group as a creative vehicle. Can it be? People very rarely think in groups; they talk together, they exchange information, they adjudicate, they make compromises. But they do not think; they do not create.”
And then there’s this, from ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM:
“It is a part of the intellectual’s tragedy that the things he most values about himself and his work are quite unlike those society values in him…in the United States the play of the mind is perhaps the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender indulgence.”
So there you have it. A list of books that influenced my life. And there are many more! So consider this post…
To be continued…
Oh, and please don’t leave this page until you’ve recommended your own favorite books in the comments below.
Introverts have been changing the world for a long time, from Van Gogh to Charles Darwin to Steve Wozniak.
But revolutionary introverts don’t belong only to history. Quiet people innovate, inspire and educate us every day. Here are three inspiring introverts who made the news in 2012. Do you have others to add to the list?
1. Tim Cook. The famously charismatic Steve Jobs relied on introverts throughout his career. And when it came time to bequeath the company – his baby – to a new leader, he chose the quiet CEO, Tim Cook.
2. Yannick Agnel. The French swimmer won two gold medals in two days at the London Olympics, prompting Michael Phelps to call him “incredible” and the media to ask, “who is this phenom?” The 20-year-old describes himself as “quite an introvert” and was drawn to the isolation and thrill of swimming.
“In competition, I hear nothing once we start. Then I perceive only the sound of water. Sometimes I go in a trance, and when I touch, it’s like I woke up,” he told the Sunday Morning Herald.
I often hear from introverts who are drawn to solo sports, just like Agnel.
3. Meryl Streep. Her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher – a famous extrovert – in The Iron Lady earned her a third Oscar. And you couldn’t help but love her self-deprecating acceptance speech. “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no, oh come on, why her again? You know? But – whatever!”
With the start of 2013, I’m excited to announce that the paperback version of QUIET will go on sale January 29!
The softcover is full of bonus content, including a Reader’s Guide, a Recommended Reading List of Introverts in Literature, and resources such as Public Speaking for Introverts, Tips for Parents of an Introverted Child and Tips for Educators.
If you preorder the book between January 7 and January 28, I’ll send you a “Quiet Celebration Kit,” including a signed bookplate, a 2013 QUIET calendar and Quiet stickers.
You may have heard this from other authors you follow, but pre-orders are crucial to a book’s success. The more pre-orders, the more the media pays attention to the ideas in the book. So, if you like the idea of a QUIET Revolution and were planning to buy the paperback anyway … now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just order from your favorite online retailer, fill out this form when you’re done, and we’ll send you the kit. Many thanks!
You probably wouldn’t expect me to kick off 2013 by recommending a book about sales, but I’ve found that pretty much everything bestselling author Dan Pink writes is funny and fascinating. So too his just-released book, TO SELL IS HUMAN: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.
This is not a book about sleazy car-dealer sales tactics. Pink argues that we all work in sales – “whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others.” And he’s out to help us spend our days more effectively.
Here are three of my favorite insights from his book:
1. The power of passion and quirkiness: When writers pitch Hollywood executives their ideas for new movies and TV shows, they’re most successful when they show passion, wit, and quirkiness, least successful when they’re too slick and trying too hard.
2. The power of less power: People who have less social power can be effective at sales, because they pay more attention to others’ perspectives and are good at seeing the world through others’ eyes. People with high status can easily slip into egocentrism.
3. The power of rhyming: Did you know that people ascribe more weight to observations made in rhyme?
“Woes unite foes” is more persuasive than “Woes unite enemies.”
“Caution and measure will win you treasure” is more convincing than “Caution and measure will win you riches.”
Crazy, but true.
(Other gems by Pink include “A Whole New Mind” (a book that permanently changed my world-view) and “Drive” (on the surprising truth of motivation). I also enjoy his radio program, “Office Hours,” where I made a guest appearance last January.)
What’s your opinion? Do you think there’s such a thing as humane salesmanship?
Hi everyone, happy new year!
One of the best side benefits of writing QUIET is having discovered a group of readers who share similar tastes and sensibilities. I’d like to take advantage of this by regularly passing on articles, books, essays, music, podcasts, etc., that have moved me or made me think. Please do the same, and we’ll end up with quite a collection!
For today, here’s the great spiritual leader Abraham Joshua Heschel (via Krista Tippett’s radio program, “On Being” – also recommended to me by a reader.)
“The meaning of life is to treat your life like a work of art. An individual dies when [s]he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil, I’m not accommodated to the violence. I’m still surprised. So I can fight against it.”
Happy new year — and please share your own recommendations!
I have so much to be thankful for this season — because of you. QUIET is showing up on many lists highlighting the best books of the year, and I could not be more grateful. Here’s a look at the good news we’ve just received:
• QUIET ranks in the top three of Amazon’s Best Nonfiction of the Year, alongside Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
• It’s also one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2012.
• The TODAY Show has named QUIET one of the top ten books of the year.
• People Magazine has named QUIET one of the top ten books of the year.
• Goodreads.com has voted QUIET the #1 Best Nonfiction Book of 2012.
• Brainpickings has chosen QUIET as one of the 10 best Psychology and Philosophy books of 2012.
• Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life has chosen QUIET as one of the 10 Favorite Books of 2012.
• O, The Oprah Magazine has honored it as one of its 19 Favorite Books of the Year.
• Fast Company Magazine names QUIET #1 Best Business Book of the Year.
• 800-CEO-Reads names QUIET #1 Favorite Business Book of the Year.
• Library Journal ranks it among the Best Books of 2012 .
• Hudson Booksellers names QUIET one of the Best Books of 2012.
• The Guardian names QUIET one of the best psychology books of 2012.
• QUIET is one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Nonfiction of 2012
• Audible.com has named QUIET the Best Nonfiction Book of 2012.
• Christian Science Monitor has included QUIET in its list of Best Books of 2012.
• Inc. Magazine has named QUIET one of their Best Books for Entrepreneurs of 2012!
• The Princeton Alumni Weekly has named Susan Cain one of the top five alumni newsmakers of 2012.
• Inside Higher Ed has selected QUIET the #2 best nonfiction book of 2012.
None of this would be possible without you. Please know that during this holiday season, you have my gratitude.
QUIET has received a number of honors in its first year, but this one means the world to me — it’s a semifinalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Nonfiction!
This award is unique because readers (you!) choose the winners. Goodreads nominates 15 books from every genre based on the number of ratings and average rating they receive on the site. Because of your reviews, QUIET rose to the top of 170 million books.
The semifinal round is open now through Saturday, November 17. If you believe in the book, please help it advance to the final round by casting your vote here.
And — THANK YOU for all of your support.
Lately I’ve been fascinated by the question of moral courage: what it is, who possesses it. So often we see courage right under our noses, and fail to recognize it.
I think that’s the case with Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and, more recently, Vagina. Wolf has made a career of speaking her truth. Time and again she ventures into controversial territory, not only taking on sacred cows but also using a language not generally embraced by public intellectuals – in her latest book she speaks of goddesses and, well, vaginas. She knows she’ll be judged, even mocked. But she tells her truth anyway. How many of us can say that?
At this point, I should tell you that I’ve known Naomi Wolf for much of my adult life. That makes me biased, but it also means that I know something about her that’s rarely discussed in the media – the lengths she goes to, behind the scenes and mostly unheralded, to help other women. I have watched her mentor countless young writers – edit their proposals, blurb their books, open her Rolodex She does these things matter-of-factly, expecting little in return besides the satisfaction of propelling more women into public discourse.
So I have watched with some dismay as critics have characterized Wolf’s latest book – a work clearly animated by her characteristic generosity of spirit and intellectual adventurousness – as a frivolous ode to her own sexuality.
Wolf begins the book by sharing her own story. At midlife, she found herself suffering from a degenerative disorder of the spine – a form of spina bifida that she’d probably had from birth without knowing it – that profoundly diminished her enjoyment of sex. When finally she had surgery, her back healed and her pleasure returned. Equally important, after a conversation with her doctor, she had an epiphany — that women’s pleasure is partly a function of their neural wiring.
To which some critics have responded – and I quote: “Duh.”
But it’s not duh.
Here’s how Wolf puts it – and this is the paragraph that informs the rest of the book:
“That’s what explained [women’s sexuality]? Neural wiring? Not culture, not uprbringing, not patriarchy, not feminism, not Freud? Even in women’s magazines, variation in women’s sexual response was often described as if it were predicated mostly upon emotions, or access to the ‘right’ fantasies or role playing, or upon one’s upbringing, or upon one’s ‘guilt,’ or ‘liberation,’ or upon a lover’s skill. I had never read that the way you best reached orgasm, as a woman, was largely due to basic neural wiring. This was a much less mysterious and value-laden message about female sexuality: it presented the obvious suggestion that anyone could learn about her own, or his or her partner’s, particular neural variant as such, and simply master the patterns of the special way it worked.”
These are extremely intriguing and important points. Wolf goes on to argue that women are neurally wired to “face the fact, which is simply more obscured to men (though actually ultimately no less true for them)” that “connection, love, intimacy, and Eros is indeed bigger and stronger than anything else in the world.” She suggests ways that women might realize the power of their sexuality to promote love and bonding. And she takes on postfeminism, arguing that today’s women subscribe to a “male-model ideal of not-caring, take-it-or-leave-it sexuality [that is] setting up yet another impossible ideal into which women are supposed to shoehorn their actual needs, at some violence to themselves.”
You may not agree with every plank of this. But as a writer, Wolf has always been both poet and polemicist. And in Vagina, she is doing what she has done consistently throughout her career: written from a high wire. She knowingly makes bold and controversial statements, and in the case of this book hopes they’ll resonate with the many women – nearly one in three, according to Wolf – who suffer from low desire or anorgasmia. She has started a conversation about women’s pleasure – a subject that is still – still, after all this time – rife with misinformation.
It’s a discussion we desperately need to have, and I admire Wolf for igniting it.