The Unquiet Introvert – Quiet: a Question of structure

As I continue to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet”, I’m struck by reasonably complicated feelings.  Quiet is clearly well researched, containing everything I expect to read along with new facts I had not previously encounters.  As popular books on introversion go, then it is reasonably encyclopedic.  As such I can’t hesitate to recommend it to somebody who wants a quick and dirty introduction to this facet of personality.  The writing itself, however, leaves me confused.

The first problem is one of structure.  The book began by using stories – effectively anecdotes - about individual introverts to illustrate points about introversion.  As it progressed the book moves on to using descriptions of scientific research and experiments that prove their points.  As I said, sub-par Malcome Gladwell. Then, as if from nowhere, suddenly Cain steps in, a gonzo journalist mode, going to visit some of the scientists and researchers she describes.  Except that, well, Cain doesn’t really get that much from them.  It could be a good story of her experiences with interesting characters, if only the characters she wrote about were interesting, or had interesting stories to tell.  Instead, we see encounters which don’t do much more than take longer to explain what their experiments have proven.  We don’t get any insight into debate within the introvert research community.  We don’t get any of the outlandish ideas some researchers might have.  Its just a different way of writing.

The other problem is one of staying with the story.  At one point Cain gets into discussing a question of nature vs nurture, especially in relation to highly reactive children.  So far, so good.  But as she gets into the neurophysiology which might underly the reasons for their high reactivity, she moves off into an aside into her own problems with public speaking.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a link – and I can see why she moves from one to the other, but then Cain moves back to talking about the highly reactive children then back to public speaking again.  Back and forth between the two ideas, without any sense that what she is doing is breaking up both narratives.

I wasn’t expecting to find it was the style of writing which left me cold about this book – Cain’s TED speech was masterfully structured, but left a distate in my mouth about Susan Cain’s ideas about introverts needing special treatment.  So far I don’t find any of these distasteful ideas in the book, and yet the storytelling is seriously flawed – flawed in ways I would expect an editor approaching this book to quickly fix.

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