As the autumn begins, what better to do than curl up with a good book! The choices for September are The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (Julia) and Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cane (Ruth)
The Casual Vacancy
Pagford is a picturesque, parochial town with cobbled streets and quaint little cottages. Just beyond is the council estate, The Fields; a crime-ridden, concrete-crumbling embarrassment to the Pagford old guard. When Councillor Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly, leaving his seat in Pagford Parish Council open - a Casual Vacancy - old grudges break to new grievances. The council are divided by pro-Fielders and those who wish to see Pagford restored to its supposed former glory. It soon becomes clear, as the town's pretty façade begins to crack, that this division will inevitably lead to a disastrous conclusion.
This Dickensian approach, of telling the story of a town, rather than a character, is a marvellous example of just how good an author J.K. Rowling is. She weaves a rich tapestry of characters and situations together in a masterful and undeniably thought-provoking way. This story is told from the different perspectives of a number of complex personalities, young and old. For instance, you'll find yourself casting judgement on an individual; only to have your opinion receded by the next chapter. Gritty and controversial themes are explored throughout. It may not have the same "page-turner" appeal as her previous books, but it certainly leaves an imprint in the mind. I could go for days without picking this book up, but when I found time to read, I remembered exactly what had happened up to that point. This is great story-telling. I highly recommend this book, and eagerly await Rowling's next offering.
In `Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking', introvert ex-corporate lawyer, Susan Cain, describes and illustrates a body of mostly US-centric research into personality types, which she divides into introverts and extroverts. Throughout the book, she weaves in her personal tales of inner transformation once she takes on board both the strengths and weaknesses of being an introvert, growing up and working in an American culture that appears to value and reward extrovert behaviour above all.
In the two and a half page conclusion of the book, she summarises maybe all you need to know about the strategies that introverts can adopt to take full advantage of their strengths (measured decision-making; empathy; analysis of situations based on sustained observation and reflection; intuition; ethical stances; preference for deep and meaningful social contacts; love of quiet and replenishing spaces etc).
Susan Cain comes across as sincere, sensitive, thoughtful and brave - as one might expect from her description of the typical introvert nature. She argues passionately that introverts, including those who come to the USA from a more culturally-introverted country, feel criticised and undervalued for being the way they are - shyness, sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as being negatives.
In some social and educational contexts, introversion is even seen as a kind of mental illness or learning disadvantage that must be cured. The author in fact acknowledges that constant exposure to extrovert behaviour; the pressure to perform in an inauthentic and pretend-extrovert manner; or just to `fit in' to a brash, noisy, insensitive world can be physically and emotionally damaging to someone more introverted.