Wednesday, March 28, 2012
An exploration of the role of introverts in a culture that celebrates extroversion.
This is a smart examination of what it's like to be an introvert in America. Susan Cain delves into the latest research about introversion, and about how the particular skills of introverts are not being used in the current business culture. Cain explains how corporate culture (again, particularly in America) has evolved to value extroversion above all other qualities. An outgoing personality is often seen as the essential leadership skill, above even good decision-making and intelligence. However, research has shown that extroverts, who are often impulsive and risk-prone, are no more effective at leading companies than introverts. In fact, Cain argues that the domination of risk-takers was a major factor in the recent financial collapse. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult for introverts to make their voices heard.
Cain writes about how important it is to acknowledge the needs of your personality type and to stop viewing introversion as a handicap. This type of personality can be a powerful asset, and Cain urges people to take notice of the benefits of having a cerebral, independent nature. She talks about the importance of making choices that will allow you to be the most happy and productive. This may involve working hard to acquire skills that come naturally to others, but it also means making sure you have the space and time you need to produce your best work. Much of her advice is suited for the workplace, but Cain also discusses the need to understand introverts if you are a parent of an introvert or work in education. Identifying and encouraging the strengths in your quiet children and students instead of forcing them to be more outgoing can make a world of difference.
Introverts are often forced to pass as extroverts in order to compete. In many cases, it is difficult for them to reach their full potential because of the extra effort involved in living up to the outgoing, social ideal. I am a textbook introvert. I work better on my own than in a group, need time alone to process information, and prefer to observe in social situations before jumping in. I don't pass as an extrovert, but I have had to make a concerted effort to learn networking skills, take risks, and be proactive about connecting with people and opportunities. This is how many introverts succeed when they lack outgoing personalities. Cain notes that Asian cultures tend to be much more appreciative of introverted characteristics. She interviews Asian-American students who have to find their voice in American classrooms and social environments, often choosing to adopt a persona in order to succeed.
This book was carefully researched and highly engaging. I literally couldn't put it down, which is impressive for a work of straight non-fiction. As I was reading, I kept thinking that QUIET could be my personal manifesto. I feel that I have embraced my quiet nature, but I also recognize that I need to cultivate certain "extrovert skills" in order to achieve my goals. This book strikes a nice balance between acknowledging the reality of our culture's extrovert celebration and arguing to nurture the skills that introverts have to offer. I highly recommend this book.
The Power of Introverts website. There's an awesome TED talk here.
$12.99 for the Kindle edition
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Does the culture in your country value one type of personality over the other? Have you chosen a career that is compatible with your personality type?
Monday, March 26, 2012
Welcome to another week of bookspotting! Earlier this week, I saw two schoolgirls reading side-by-side on the train. One had a Chinese book and the other had a James Patterson novel. I spotted a man on the MTR reading something called Poor Economics and a woman reading a Sophie Kinsella book, though I couldn't tell which one. On Saturday, I saw a young man walking through Causeway Bay and reading the first few pages of The Hunger Games. I saw the movie on Sunday and really enjoyed it. On Monday, I saw a woman carrying The Help in Soho (also a good movie).
So, what are people reading in your town this week? Did you see the movie of the week?
Friday, March 23, 2012
How I figured out the plot of my travel memoir.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
A few days ago I wrote about the talks given by Michael Dunne and Maria Tumarkin at the Shanghai Literary Festival. On my last day in Shanghai, I also got to listen to Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy about North Korea, and Siddartha Deb, author of The Beautiful and the Damned about modern India. Both of these talks were of particular interest to me because these works fall into the realm of creative non-fiction. Both books are somewhat journalistic, but they rely on the storytelling and characterization skills cultivated by novelists.
Barbara Demick is a career journalist who wanted to create a human portrait of North Korea. She spoke about her desire to breathe life into the stories of famine and starvation through the voices of ordinary North Koreans. As an American, her access to the reclusive realm was limited, so she relied on the accounts of people who had left North Korea to craft her story. She fielded questions about the difficulty of interviewing defectors, who are outliers by definition, to write about ordinary lives. In fact, many of her subjects are older women who may be loyalists, but they leave to seek work in China with the intention of returning to North Korea. Demick believes that China has a unique opportunity to open up the North Korean economy, but there are, of course, a multitude of hurdles to reunification. She is cautiously optimistic about the recent leadership change as people become more hopeful and gradually more aware of the world outside their borders.
Another writer who has crafted a narrative portrait of a country is Siddhartha Deb. He is a novelist who made the crossover to non-fiction in order to write about India Shining, the new, hip, upwardly mobile India. He chose to write his treatment through a serious of character studies. He talked about how he chose people to interview who were both representative of types in modern India and also unique, engaging individuals. He, too, didn't want his book to be too journalistic, and even included himself as a character to retain the novelistic, subjective feel of the narrative. He said it was like living in someone else's novel, but non-fiction also provided a more immediate way of responding to the world.
I found both of these writers particularly interesting as I continue to write from life. My own travel memoir started, in part, as a way of responding to my experiences in Hong Kong. I also wanted to create a novel-like story about an electric, dynamic place while still including my own personable perspective. I like character and plot-driven tales more than journalistic accounts, and I'm learning how to create those stories.
What do you look for in non-fiction? Do you want it to be informative? Entertaining? Literary?
Monday, March 19, 2012
On Saturday, I attended the launch of the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society's annual anthology: Imprint. The event was at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Central, and it was attended by many WiPS members and their friends. I was asked to read part of my own contribution to the anthology, a creative non-fiction piece entitled Optimism. This is officially my first appearance in a print publication! We also heard readings from some accomplished poets and storytellers and the talented teenage winner of the secondary school writing competition conducted by WiPS.
The launch party for Imprint was also the launch of the new HK WiPS literary prize: the Saphira Prize. It calls for entries of 40,000-50,000 words, either works of fiction or memoir, which will be edited and published by WiPS. I don't know if I will have anything to enter yet, but the deadline isn't until September, so there's a little time. I'm tempted to try a novella.
On to the bookspotting! This week I saw a woman in an MTR station reading a book called Red Capitalism in South China. Later, I spotted a man reading Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. This morning I saw a girl reading a hardcover book with an English title that had something to do industry, but I didn't see the whole thing. This weekend I saw a lot of people reading in Starbucks, but I didn't catch any titles. I counted six Chinese books this week, mostly in the MTR.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
Last weekend I spent three days in Shanghai for the International Literary Festival where I had the opportunity to listen to a group of fascinating writers. Michael Dunne (pictured below) discussed his book American Wheels, Chinese Roads about the rise of General Motors in China. Surprisingly, Buick is the most popular model in China because it has become a status symbol. This is a story about what it's like to do business in China as companies around the world try to tap this massive market of newly affluent consumers. It is vital to have local partners when doing business in China, and Dunne described some of the advantages and pitfalls of such arrangements. Dunne was an engaging speaker and his audience of journalists and Western businessmen found his talk particularly relevant to their work.
The next speaker was Maria Tumarkin, author of a Otherland, a memoir of returning to Russia and the Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tumarkin had moved to Australia with her family as a teenager just months before the demise of the Soviet Union, and in her travel memoir she returns with a teenage daughter of her own. Tumarkin was extremely sharp, and her talk revealed that her work is full of dense, profound ideas in addition to descriptions of a drastically changed homeland. She spoke about some of the issues she encountered in going back and trying to connect with her adolescent daughter over her history. She also spoke about her desire to humanize the region through storytelling and transcend the specifics of her own story. As someone who had moved away from home and also found a new home, she struggled with dual identities, guilt, and the difficulty of returning to old friendships with the prospect of a book on her mind. I bought Otherland on my Kindle, so I'll write more about this struggle when I finish reading the book.
Later I'll write about Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy, and Siddartha Deb, author The Beautiful and the Damned.
Posted by Shannon Young at 9:18 AM
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Okay, this isn't a proper walking tour, but Shanghai is such a beautiful city. I wanted to show it to you even though I don't know it well enough to take you on a tour.
At times it looks like Hong Kong...
...but I stayed in the beautiful Former French Concession.
It has tree-lined, bicycle-friendly streets...
...and lots of quirky restaurants.
When I was at the literary festival events, I got another look at the city.
I could see unique pockets from the Glamour Bar of M on the Bund.
The view from the Bund itself is pretty spectacular.
I didn't go up in the Pearl on this trip, but it's just an excuse to go back!
This city has a beautiful architectural history.
It's a lovely place to walk through the crisp air.
We saw another side of Shanghai in the close, character-filled lanes of one of the few remaining hutongs.
This internet cafe was right in the middle of this humble housing area.
There are all sorts of hidden gems in the hutongs, such as an eclectic pigeon coop...
...and little businesses.
These cramped little neighborhoods are being systematically torn down.
We were lucky to see the remnants of humble Shanghai life before it is entirely replaced by high-rises.
I wonder if life in the new housing projects will be preferable to this.
It must be sad to leave behind the community feeling of the hutongs.
I was happy to see one of these special neighborhoods while I could.
Back on the main street, you can see pieces of old and new Shanghai side by side.
We made our way into a food market.
Here amongst the crowds...
We found food to rival a Hong Kong street market.
All the usual suspects were there...
Some of the foods were familiar...
...and some appeared in new combinations.
I found a tub full of the biggest bullfrogs I've ever seen! I'm sure they're tasty.
We also met an adorable baby keeping an eye on the ginger.
Shanghai was full of unexpected pockets of color...
I hope I'll be able to return to this beautiful city soon.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
I'm back from a very cool long weekend in Shanghai. I stayed with my awesome writer friend and went to the Shanghai Literary Festival. Needless to say, I spotted lots of books. I'll do longer write-ups of a few of the events this week, but I'll just tell you that I spotted American Wheels, Chinese Roads by Michael Dunne, Otherland by Maria Tumarkin, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, and The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb at the authors' events.
The Literary Festival took place in the Glamour Bar at M on the Bund. The literary crowd spent the time leading up to the events reading Kindles and newspapers and chatting about the other events they had seen. I spotted two women reading Kindles in the airport on my way home. I also spotted a man reading Alan Sugar's What You See Is What You Get. Earlier in the week in Hong Kong I spotted a girl reading Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire and three people reading Chinese books.
What are people reading in your town? Have you met any cool authors lately?
Monday, March 5, 2012
This week, I saw a girl in Central station carrying a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. Later, I spotted a woman reading Sherlock Holmes on the train. It made me want to get back to reading classics, something I've fallen away from in the last year. Earlier today on the MTR, I saw a woman reading I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. I spotted another woman reading a thick booklet called Wines and Spirits. This weekend, I saw a woman sitting on a bench beneath the Escalator reading from a latest-generation Kindle. I only spotted four Chinese books this week, plus a lot of newspapers and smartphones.
What are people reading in your town this week?