Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Dubliners and a Defence of James Joyce: The Dead, Eveline, and Paolo Coelho

Image from joycesdublin.ie

I first read Dubliners a few years ago - probably two - after receiving a hardback Penguin volume for Christmas. I read it whilst on a ski holiday, and, like most people who enjoy it, I was completely engrossed by "The Dead". The ending passage is renowned as being exceptionally beautiful, and it was the leading reason why I wanted to read the collection of short stories.

James Joyce is often affected by the reputation of being difficult to read. I've never been brave enough to read Finnegan's Wake, although I'd like to, and whilst I enjoyed Ulysses very much, many others would follow Paolo Coelho's attack on the text:

Today, writers want to impress other writers. [...] One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce's Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.

This is strong, damning criticism, and I couldn't disagree more with it. Yet a stigma of nonsense and difficulty still surrounds James Joyce, which I see as a shame. I'd like to consider that most of the readers who view Joyce as unreadable have not read Dubliners. Perhaps I am very wrong, judgemental and presuming, but there may well be some truth in my presumption. People often start with Ulysses or Finnegans Wake after receiving the books as a present, or because they foolishly wish to impress someone or other, and after a discouraging start, they are put off the author permanently.

Yet Dubliners is so simple, concise and readable. Joyce does not allude to straight-forward points in an indecipherable style that is about as useful as hieroglyphics; rather, he says it as it is, and he says it directly. In last Saturday's Guardian, I read the following short review by Sebastian Barry, on "Eveline" in Dubliners, in response to being asked his favourite short story:


Finnegans Wake has defeated me, although guilt has driven me to dip into it over the decades. I read Ulysses in a little octagonal house on Omey Island in 1976, but got disenchanted and disheartened at the entrance to Nighttown. I have gone back to it over the years, feeling not only guilty but alarmed. They are the two ticking bombs of Irish literature.

But I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Back Square when I was a student at Trinity College, standing all day in the weak summer sunlight, and crazy in the head with admiration and gratitude at the end of it. Similarly Dubliners, given to me by one of my grandfathers, whose taste otherwise ran to Kipling.

I chose "Eveline" to read because, 40 years later, I am still not over it. The beautiful and threatening set-up, family horrors half-alluded to, and the happinesses so fairly itemised … The "manly" man that comes to rescue her. The full and heartfelt understanding and encouragement of the reader. The scene at the dockside. I am still inclined to cry out the same thing I cried out the first time I read it, aged 17: "Get on the bloody boat, Eveline."

Not only is the collection easy to read, but the stories are beautifully written. For instance, from "Araby", there is the following passage:

When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street.

And then there is the ending of "The Dead", which has allowed so many to regain faith in Joyce's capability as a writer. If you wish to read the short story and find out the ending for yourself, look away now! Otherwise, here are the final few sentences:

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

If you have previously sworn an eternal enmity with James Joyce, perhaps reconsider your view of him with the start of a new year. Even if you read just one short story from Dubliners, it may well become a lifelong favourite!


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Wintertime by Robert Louis Stevenson

On the way past this field I heard jangling bells, and stupidly presumed that the noise
belonged to the sheep. It was only on the way back that I saw the real culprit.

The weather here in England's south east has been so dreary this week. It's hard to feel christmassy when it's raining and windy, but hopefully festive feelings will come tomorrow. It will be Christmas Eve, after all. As of yet I haven't been listening to any Christmas music, and I haven't done that much decorating. However, my boyfriend stayed with me this weekend, and we exchanged gifts and had a lovely meal in town yesterday. I'm also home with my family, and feeling happy and healthy. 


Tomorrow I'll be creating the traditional nut loaf (for me alone to eat), perhaps reading A Christmas Carol, and doing last minute organisation. Then, on Christmas Day I'll be seeing one set of grandparents for lunch, and the others for teatime. My Mum's in England for the first Christmas in around seven years, which I'm sure will be quite strange for the rest of us!


This morning my boyfriend, Chris, and I decided to walk down the road briefly, camera and warm layers in tow. Despite the sun being decidedly absent, the views across the fields were still welcome. There's always a certain freshness about winter that makes a change from being indoors. The area in which I live is so great for walking, and whilst I'm home for Christmas I'd like to spend more time outdoors. Nonetheless, I'll always be one for snuggling up indoors with a good book, which explains my finding of the following poem this morning!  

All the best, and merry Christmas!




Winter-Time

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Robert Louis Stevenson



Friday, 21 December 2012

The End of the World, Again, and John Donne

Image for the 2012 Mayan apocalypse fear from the BBC.

Humans are obsessed with the end of the world. The concept of meaninglessness, or non-existence, is deeply threatening at a psychological level, and we generally wish to believe that our personal lives are significant and important to the whole. One BBC article includes the following quote,

"It is a very ancient pattern in human thought. It is rooted in ancient, even pre-biblical Middle Eastern myths of ultimate chaos and ultimate struggle between the forces of order and chaos," says cultural historian Paul S Boyer, author of When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture.

Around the world in preparation for today (according to time zones), survival pods have been built in China's Hebei province and panic-buying of candles has been reported in the Sichuan province, whilst in Russia sales of tinned goods and matches have surged. Yet this is not unfamiliar: the Romans panicked at predictions their city would be destroyed in 634 BC, millennial fears gripped Europe ahead of the year 1000 AD, and during the English Civil War, groups like the Fifth Monarchists believed the end was nigh. The aforementioned are only a few examples of feared apocalypses.

Copernicus, who can be seen as an influence in John
Donne's poetry (particularly in "An Anatomy
of the World")
Recently, I've been studying John Donne's poetic depiction of what he called the "new Philosophy": the rise of observed, evidenced knowledge by thinkers such as Galileo and Copernicus which replaced the relatively stagnant, conventional knowledge of Aristotle. Donne followed new scientific proposals avidly, but he displayed concern for the consequences. When Copernicus declared that the sun was at the centre of the universe, Martin Luther responded, “The fool will upset the whole science of astronomy”. A similarly lamentable declaration is made by John Donne in “An Anatomy of the World”: “’tis all in pieces, all coherence gone”. On the surface, this poem marks the death of Elizabeth Drury (whom the poem is dedicated to), yet there is a much wider solemn vision created by Donne. It seems that Donne is not only marking Drury’s death, but also the deterioration of the world: it is repeated to be “a sick world”, a “carcass”, and that “from the first hour [did] decay”. To Donne, “so is the world’s whole frame/Quite out of joint, almost created lame”.

Whilst Copernicus was, in fact, right about the earth not being at the universe's centre, it's not too likely that the world will end today. Maybe now that I've written this, it will, who knows. My apologies if it does. Nonetheless, Donne's insecurity and concern can be compared to the frequent fears of modern humankind for the future, both in a personal, individual way, and in a "ahh, the whole world is ending", collective way.

On days like today, with the media leaping on the widespread potential of human fear and panic, we can best understand Donne's fear for the future of the "safe", conventional world. We're quite sure that we'll wake up tomorrow, but conversely we can't help but slightly worry about the future and significance of our lives. I've just seen the following post on twitter, which encapsulates the hype and encouraged panic:

  – Join  LIVE for all things apocalyptic around the globe  (via )

Is this even serious? My thirteen-year brother, who is quite the worrier, seemed rather anxious going to bed last night. He pottered around the house, evading bedtime even longer than usual, and then wished me a good end of the world. Poor kid. He'll probably be annoyed when he realises that he has to do his homework after all.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

My Top Rated Books on Goodreads


You can tell a lot about a person based on what books they value most highly. These are some of the books that have shaped me most. The Death of Ivan Ilyich changed my perspective on living a good life, and Meditations inspired my willpower to move away from the past.

Those two books are generally quite well-known and regarded as classics, unlike, for instance, When God Was a Rabbit. However, I enjoyed the latter novel so much; it managed to contain both humour and serious topics with such great balance. And, of course, there was a rabbit called God. I really hope that Sarah Winman writes some more fiction.

It must be said that not all of my favourite books have high ratings. Great Expectations, The Odyssey, and Virginia Woolf's The Waves don't make my five-star list, yet they are some of my favourites. But anyway, that's not the main point of my post.

Here are my top rated books on Goodreads:


  • Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories - Leo Tolstoy
  • Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh
  • War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  • Why I Write - George Orwell
  • How Fiction Works - James Wood
  • First Love and Other Stories - Ivan Turgenev
  • A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings - Charles Dickens
  • The Lover's Dictionary - David Levithan
  • When God Was a Rabbit - Saran Winman
  • Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  • Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
  • Once in a House on Fire - Andrea Ashworth
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
  • The Stranger - Albert Camus
  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - Jon McGregor
  • Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  • Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
  • La Casa de los Espíritus (The House of the Spirits) - Isabel Allende
  • La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) - Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation - Daisy Hay
  • The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
  • Looking for Alaska - John Green

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng: Finding Strength in Poetry

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, a novel set in Malaya. Image source.
The Garden of Evening Mists is such a beautifully written story of strength, courage and the passing of time. It is the second novel by Tan Twan Eng to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize: his first novel, The Gift of Rain, was published in 2007 and long-listed for the award that year. This year, The Garden of Evening Mists was published, and short-listed. Perhaps his next novel will win!

Goodreads provides the following plot overview:
It's Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambridge and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself. As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

It's a fascinating plot, and I always love reading narratives that demonstrate a character overcoming mental, and physical, challenges. A few years ago I wrote a literature essay on catharsis in The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and it would be interesting to consider these two novels alongside Tan Twan Eng's sometime. Here are some particularly poignant passages from The Garden of Evening Mists:

"How did it keep you alive?"
"We escaped into make-believe worlds", I said. "Some imagined themselves building the house of their dreams, or constructing a yacht. The more details they could include, the better they were insulated from the horrors around them. (p57)
I withdrew from the other prisoners, preferring to lose myself in my own thoughts. To distract myself I created a garden in my mind, calling it up from nothing more than memory. (p271)

We can all learn from these quotes, whether in order to defend yourself in the present, or to reinforce your mental strength for the future. When I'm stressed or struggling with something, I like to recite poetry in my head. Also, recently I have learned to create a "safe place" that I can evoke in order to bring feelings of comfort and positivity. Francine Shapiro writes extensively about this in Getting Past Your Past, a very useful book of self-help strategies that I will probably review soon.

Moving on, despite the Southeast Asian identity of the novel, there are several inclusions of English poetry. Both Shelley and Yeats are mentioned, and their poetry becomes cleverly intwined into the narrative. Shelley's "The Cloud" is particularly intrinsic to the plot's movement, and, as it is a piece that I hadn't studied extensively before, I was glad to come across it. Here is the last stanza, which presents the poem's extended metaphor of the unending cycle of nature:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

On the whole, it's a novel full of beautiful descriptions of landscape - you can hardly find flaws in that.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

BBC Sports Personality 2012 - An Edgar Guest Poem, Virgil & Courage


2012 has been such a year for sport. There's been the Tour de France, Wimbledon, and of course the London Olympic Games (among so many more events - I'm slightly biased). This evening the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards were staged, and it was such a great way to top off the year's successes. As with the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, someone cleverly decided to include literary references into the Sports Personality awards this evening.

BBC Sports Personality 2012 Poems, Jess Ennis
BBC Sports Personality 2012. Of course, the lovely Jess Ennis. Image from telegraph.co.uk

Firstly, whilst displaying footage of the great rowing success for Britain in the Olympics, an extract from Virgil's The Boat Race, from the Aeneid, was read by Kenneth Branagh:

They man the thwarts, their arms strained to the oars; straining, they await the signal, while throbbing fear and eager passion for glory drain each bounding heart. Then, when the clear trumpet sounded, all at once shot forth from their starting places; the mariners’ shouts strike the heavens; as arms are drawn back the waters are turned into foam. They cleave the furrows abreast, and all the sea gapes open, uptorn by the oars and triple-pointed beaks. Now with such headlong speed in the two-horse chariot race do the cars seize the plain and dart forth from their stalls! Not so wildly over their dashing steeds do the charioteers shake the waving reins, bending forward to the lash. Then with applause and shouts of men, and zealous cries of partisans, the whole woodland rings; the sheltered beach rolls up the sound, and the hills, smitten, echo back the din.

Then, the following poem by Edgar Guest was recited by Idris Elba, an actor from East London. I've never heard it before, but it's such an inspiring, motivational piece. I always like to push myself, and do what I think I could not, and therefore I really should read this regularly! As part of my EMDR therapy finalisation, I had to imagine five people that strengthened me, and five memories that I was proud of. When I bring these up in my head, I cannot fail to feel strong and capable of anything I want to do. I've achieved a lot, been through a lot, and I'm sure that I'll go on to achieve a lot. It's fantastic how sport can reinforce your belief in your own capability and strength, and motivate others to follow in the footsteps of their heroes.


It Couldn't Be Done - Edgar Guest
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.



Saturday, 15 December 2012

My Experience of EMDR Therapy

I hope that those interested in EMDR therapy will find this post useful. However, this is a long post - you've been warned!

Why did I feel I needed EMDR?
If you've been following my blog or Twitter, you probably know that I have recently undergone EMDR therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (yeah, let's stick with EMDR).

This was due to certain memories that kept troubling me, as well as difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and dealing with the memories calmly. I was recommended EMDR many years ago, and last year I came across it again in the brilliant Healing Without Freud or Prozac by David Servan-Schreiber.

I had been diagnosed with PTSD, which I had thought to be due to my parents' divorce. I could replay the night that it happened with unusual clarity, although I had no recall of the time periods around it, and any related thoughts brought intense waves of feeling.

In the NHS therapy sessions that I had before starting private EMDR therapy, I'd spend the majority of sessions crying or on the verge of a panic attack (or in the midst of one). Clearly, the divorce had affected me in a very strong and strange way. Yet, as it turned out, it wasn't the root cause of my problems.

When going through a chronological history of my past with my new therapist, I briefly mentioned that sometime before the divorce (I can't easily place either event) I saw my sister nearly drown. Like the divorce, I could re-play it so clearly in my mind, and my body felt like I was re-experiencing it when I did.

The therapist told me something along the lines of the following: you can be traumatised by one event, but the symptoms can be delayed in appearance until another, less "traumatic" event. Therefore, the incident with my sister seemed to be the route cause of my issues, although I had barely given any thought to it. However, it would explain why I've always hated water and swimming...

How does EMDR work?
Here's the EMDR Association's description of how the therapy works:

When I person is involved in a distressing event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. The distressing memory seems to become frozen on a neurological level. When a person recalls the distressing memory, the person can re-experience what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt, and this can be quite intense. Sometimes the memories are so distressing, the person tries to avoid thinking about the distressing event to avoid experiencing the distressing feelings.

Some find that the distressing memories come to mind when something reminds them of the distressing event, or sometimes the memories just seem to just pop into mind. The alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps during EMDR, seems to stimulate the frozen or blocked information processing system.
In the process the distressing memories seem to lose their intensity, so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like 'ordinary' memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly move from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.

Did EMDR work?
It's quite hard not to feel sceptical of the treatment before and during therapy. My therapist used a light bar, and it was difficult not to feel stupid watching a light moving left to right. However, it did become a lot more natural, and I was able to "just let things happen" more easily (I was told to do so many times). If you struggle with OCD, as I have over the years, it does make the therapy more difficult, and so make sure that you communicate with your therapist the best you can.

After each thirty-second (more or less) interval of focusing on uncomfortable bodily sensations whilst watching the lights, I was asked how I felt, and if anything had come up. Yes, it was often tempting to tell white lies. A few times I said that I felt calmer in order to try and move away from the discomfort, but it was clear that wasn't the truth. The therapist continued to suggest further intervals of watching the lights until I genuinely seemed calmer, or until ta-dah!/lightbulb moments occurred (I'm sure this isn't the clinical term).

For instance, after focusing on the divorce, I eventually said aloud: "It wasn't my fault, it was just unfortunate that I overhead all of those things. I feel so lucky that I can now live alone and distance myself from people and situations that upset me. Back then I had no choice but to stay put."

Similarly, after following the light bar whilst thinking about the thoughts and feelings associated with my sister almost drowning, I came up with the following: "Anyone would have reacted with panic. However, I was very young myself, and it wasn't my responsibility to save her".

In the last session I had with the therapist, I did the PTSD scale again. At the beginning of the course of therapy I was scoring very highly, but now I was clinically not suffering from it. It was a relief to hear that, although it's quite strange to be diagnosed and undiagnosed within such a short space of time.

I can talk about the once-troubling events without discomfort, and they feel much more like ordinary memories. However, I am still having disturbed sleep and I still get very easily startled. I'm sure, nonetheless, that with time and rest old habits will decrease, and I'll feel entirely free from my past. But on the whole, I found the therapy to be immensely helpful, and I'm feeling so much more capable to live and enjoy my life.


Monday, 10 December 2012

Susan Cain's "Quiet": The Power of Introverts & My Experience of Social Anxiety Disorder

Quiet by Susan Cain - social anxiety and introversion

As an introvert who has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, I could really relate to "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking". It's written by Susan Cain, a lovely lady who I briefly discussed in my "Five TED Talks for Social Anxiety" post.

Cain explores the difference between introverts and extroverts in such an engaging, highly-researched and personal way, and I certainly learned a lot. Cain describes the innate talents of introverts, the ideal way of nurturing and educating them, and the problematic extrovert ideal in our society.

The book seems so connected to the author's identity, and it's clear how much time and energy she put into it. Perhaps this is due to her introversion - it often determines a greater likelihood of thinking projects through, working creatively, and considering the best way to project research.

Rosa Parks: An Introvert to Admire


I enjoyed the stories, anecdotes and memories included in Quiet. Cain frequently alludes to strong-willed yet stereotypically shy women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks. Cain tells a story about Rosa Parks, the admirable civil rights activist, that particularly struck me. I'd never heard it before, but it added so much to my view of her. In 1943, a decade prior to the event she is most famous for (when she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger), Parks boarded a Montgomery bus through the front door.

At the time, this was a completely forbidden act for an African-American. The bus driver, James F. Blake, insisted that Parks, who had already paid, exit the bus and re-enter through the other door. In response, Parks intentionally dropped her purse and sat down in a whites-only seat to pick it up. In order to stave off an expected violent response, Parks exited, but the bus departed before she re-entered.  Parks had battled with the driver and the driver had won, at the expense of Parks’ dignity.

Parks vowed to never again ride a bus driven by James F. Blake, and she often waited for a subsequent bus in order to avoid facing him. However, on December 1 1955, she boarded the bus without paying attention to who was behind the wheel. So when Blake ordered her to cede her seat to a white traveller, he also resurrected the memory of a transgression a dozen years prior — and Parks, historically, stood her ground against a nemesis from her past. Despite her introverted character, Rosa Parks stood up to him, and helped change the path of American history.

My Experience of Introversion and Social Anxiety Disorder


If I had the opportunity and the reasoning, there are some people from my past that I'd like to stand up to. For one, I'd confront a despised science teacher that I had during my A Levels. she would wear six-inch heels and short, revealing dresses on a daily basis, and inevitably she was the highlight of the average male student's day. I couldn't bear her. Her lessons consisted of extroverted activities such as group work, and practical learning; all things that I found so challenging, especially in a learning environment.

An example of her greatly innovative ideas was "speed-dating". I hope that you've never experienced this, at least not in a classroom environment. The class would divide into two parallel lines, standing facing each other, and you would have to exchange a piece of information that you'd learned about a topic with the student standing opposite you. Then one line would move along, and you'd repeat the exercise with countless other students before a class discussion (or interrogation) would take place. I'm sure that she hated me as much as I despised her, as evident in how she'd boom across the classroom, "Have you all discussed? THAT INCLUDES YOU LUCY".

I can't remember how many times I cried either during or after her lessons (and yes, embarrassingly I was about seventeen years old). As I couldn't learn anything from her teaching style, I dedicated time every morning to teaching myself in a quiet, simple, and reflective way that suited me. And funnily enough, I received 96% in the exam: the highest grade that a student she taught earned that year. Perhaps that, and dropping her classes shortly after, was revenge enough for how she belittled me.

Final Thoughts


I sincerely hope that Cain's work helps trigger the rise of introvert-friendly schooling and work environments. If this does not happen, the future Steve Wozniaks and Theodor Seuss Geisels (Dr. Seuss) of this world may never surface.

Science, culture and technology, among many other sectors, may well stagnate if introverts cannot develop in a way suited to them. This, as opposed to an increasing number of "fake extroverts" in the world, would be so beneficial to our society.

And also, the modern Rosa Parks of our era must never feel that she, or he, cannot speak out: being a more quiet, sensitive type does in no way prevent speaking out, or acting, for both the greater good and a common cause. If you're an introvert too, please remember this. Also, hello extrovert readers - I hope you don't feel ignored!

You can buy Quiet on The Book Depository.