The other day, someone posted a link to a Brainpickings item entitled How to criticize with kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the four steps to arguing intelligently
. Given my recent musings on the subject of how to respond to a book that I occasionally wanted to throw against the wall, I read through the Brainpick and found myself nodding when I read the summary/synthesis for "How to compose a successful critical commentary." Those four steps are close to what I try to do when reviewing manuscripts, and I find it so incredibly helpful to write that first paragraph in which I attempt to, as eloquently as possible, summarize the manuscript in my own words.
I have appreciated some of Dennett's previous works, including Darwin's Dangerous Idea
, Consciousness Explained
(or as I like to put it, Deconstructed), and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
, so the thought of another Dennett work, this new book Intuition Pumps
, is appealing. But then I read a review of Intuition Pumps
that made me think, "Ehhhhh...maybe my interest in Dennett's approach is playing out." Kind of like what happened after reading too many of Jared Diamond's books (could've stopped at The Third Chimpanzee
, although Guns, Germs, and Steel
was reasonably novel), or hitting that point with Michael Pollan's stuff where I took annikusrex
's word that the New York Times Magazine
article that formed the basis for In Defense of Food
was sufficient and I didn't need to read the actual book. The other philosopher referenced in the book review of Intuition Pumps
linked above might have an interesting thing or two to consider, however. If I can overcome the philosophy hangover sufficiently so as to head in that direction. I'm going to read something else first, though.
Regardless - what to do or say about the mysterious New York Times Bestseller Book at this stage. I want to turn the book back in to the library this evening, so it's time to give it one last glance and make a decision about how to review it.
For better or worse, I'm not going to employ the Dennett approach here. If you look around, you can probably find other reviews of the book, especially because I'll actually tell you the title now, if you haven't managed to guess it. I'll bet some of the other reviews are great, even. We need to keep journalism alive. Anyway. The book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking
, by Susan Cain. Overall, I would say that my faith in the New York Times NON-fiction bestseller list is still far greater than my opinion of the fiction bestseller list (and yes, I'm mixing "faith" and "opinion" intentionally). Maybe that reflects the fact that a different demographic reads and purchases nonfiction as compared to fiction. I still stand by my desire to throw the book at the wall, but have some suggestions for those who might be considering giving it a read.
First, Cain did, indeed, declare some unusual editorial decisions up front in the author's note, including the decision to omit ellipses and brackets in certain quotations while supposedly making sure omissions didn't change the speaker or writer's meaning. As an aside, she then notes that "If you would like to quote these written sources from the original, the citations directing you to the full quotations appear in the Notes." Perhaps I should have made more careful note of this decision when I started reading, but it still seems like an underhanded way of crediting sources. I can understand the desire for smooth readability, but on the other hand it runs counter to so much of what I spend time and energy trying to teach undergraduates: CITE.YOUR.SOURCES. And be friggin' transparent about it! Yes, footnotes or endnotes will clutter up the text, but on the other hand, they might also make it more clear that you've tried to thoroughly justify your statements. They also make it easier to separate facts from opinions. Jeez.
My second major note about the book would be to consider browsing the table of contents and subject matter before deciding to just plunge in to read front-to-back. The book covers a broad range of topics, from a historical perspective on "introversion," to neurobiology, to cultural differences, to the "how to." I appreciate the ambition and scope, but different people may be motivated to pick up the book for different reasons, so this is a case where some people might benefit from either selectively reading excerpts or from reading the book out of order.
Here's a quick summary of the four parts of the book:
1. The extrovert ideal (historical treatment, contemporary consequences, alternatives to the contemporary ideal)
2. Your biology, your self? (nature, nurture, overcoming temperament, neurobiological underpinnings)
3. Do all cultures have an extrovert ideal? (cultural comparisons particularly between Asian vs. American cultures)
4. How to love, how to work (acting extroverted, communication barriers between introverts and extroverts, nurturing introverted kids)
Lastly (and cattily), sometimes I felt as though the author got catty about being an introvert in a culture that idealizes extroverts. Also, this is an East Coast book, which might be why it has been so successful. I'm not especially good at articulating what I mean when I declare something to be East Coast, so maybe I should just leave it at that. But I feel obliged to point out that not everyone puts the same things up on a pedestal, and not everyone can afford or is interested in expensive seminars and workshops. Those are the things that *I* get catty about. Meow.
Now on to read something completely different. Hopefully something that will act like mouthwash for my brain.