Category Archives: Books

May Illumicrate Box

My only subscription box at the moment is Illumicrate. I love getting a little box of literary surprises every three months.

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So sweet!

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This time there’s two lovely books. Truth or Dare by Non Pratt and The Waking Land by Callie Bates. 

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I honestly don’t know much about these books or authors – isn’t that why a subscription box is great? (yes!) Goodreads tell me I’ll like Truth or Dare is I like Holly Bourne, and I really like Holly Bourne, so I’m happy.

The Waking Land is described as

Magic. Adventure. Intrigue. Romance. Revolution.

Sounds good to me.

There are some lovely postcards, a door hanger, a corner book mark, and a standard book mark.

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and finally, a cute swish and flick keychain by Nutmeg and Arlo. A Gender Games badge (which you can barely see in my terrible photo!). A mermaid lagoon candle by Flickerink, and a mug.

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Here’s the whole content of the box. Very happy with it this time 🙂

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Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

This is a brilliant collection of seven essays on feminism. It sets out succinctly and in a clear, straightforward way, all the shit that we need feminism for. They describe the ways in which women are not equal. Each essay covers something different. We have the title essay – now widely known as mansplaining, but more about that term in a minute. We have violence against women, class war and terrible economic history,  marriage equality, the efforts to make women invisible in society, intellectual freedom, and finally how ideas about feminism can’t be put back in a box and ignored: they are out there and won’t go away! It’s all the things I wish I could memorise and repeat when I meet someone who scoffs and states we don’t need feminism.

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untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

 

Each essay has a cover page with an image by Ana Teresa Fernandez on. I really liked these. Occasionally they are referred to in the essay themselves, but not in most cases. Throughout each essay you get key sentences written out again in bold and large lettering. I think to break up the text. They are a bit annoying. The only negative thing I have to say about the whole book. There are some great phrases in these essays:

part of the same archipelago of arrogance.

I’ll leave you to imagine what this was in reference to.

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Disney store mug featuring Black Widow

The first and title essay is funny, and depressing and so familiar.

It’s about the thin end of a scary wedge. This essay is describing the phenomena now widely known as mansplaining, though Rebecca Solnit doesn’t like that phrase as she explains in an addition to the original essay featured in this collection.

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conversations as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to be respected, to be a full and free human being.

Rebecca Solnit

The second essay, The Longest War, is about rape and violence against women. It’s stark and depressing and motivating. I needed a bit of a break after the second essay before I could read the third. It was just too much to take in all at once. This isn’t a criticism, it’s powerful reading.

The third, is framed around Dominique Strauss Khan and the hotel maid scandal. It touches on class war, the damaging policies of the IMF and the rich fucking over the poor.

Chapter four is marriage equality. It explores how gay marriage is an affront to people who want to preserve traditional gender roles (i.e. men being the source of power in the marriage) because a marriage between two men or two women is inherently equal.

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untitled by Ana Teresa Fernandez

Chapter 5, Grandmother Spider, is about the erasure of women. In biblical genealogy, lineage is from father to son. Women are ignored. The entire side of someone’s family on their mothers side is erased. Women’s names are erased on marriage. You used to become Mrs husbands name. I’ve had post arrived addressed to me in this way and it’s infuriating! Veils are a way of disappearing a women. So is confining her to a home and not enabling women to take part in public life. It starts out looking at the bible and ends with examples in the modern world. I really enjoyed this essay, especially because I’m already so familiar with the history of women in science and how often women have been overlooked.

When I was young, women were raped on the campus of a great university and the authorities responded by telling all the women students not to go out alone after dark or not to be out at all. Get in the house. (For women, confinement is always waiting to envelope you.) Some pranksters put up a poster announcing another remedy, that all men be excluded from campus after dark. It was an equally logical solution, but men were shocked at being asked to disappear, to lose their freedom to move and participate, all because of the violence of one man.

Rebecca Solnit

Next we have a chapter starting with a Virginia Woolf quote:

The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think

Virginia Woolf, 1915.

It wasn’t really clear what this is about at first. It talks of Sontag and if art is hopeful or dark or something. It’s a bit more abstract that the others and so I struggled with it. It references another of her books Hope In The Dark and is about having hope. How your actions might have unintended, amazing consequences. you can’t know if your actions will have the effect you want, but you should try just in case it does, or in case it has unintended consequences. There are examples to illustrate all this. It gives a great case for wandering about and walking being great for creativity and introspection.

This essay is still great, but it’s also a bit advert for Rebecca Solnit’s other books (which I know I will end up ordering and reading – in fact, Hope in the Dark arrived yesterday!), which I now want to read (Hope in the Dark was already high up on my wishlist because of Josie Long singing it’s praises on Bookshambles). I also now must read some Virginia Woolf and her essay on wandering the streets of London! I love how reading one thing makes me want to read others. Though I really don’t need any more books… says every reader, ever.

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Grace Kelly: rock star

Essay 7: Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force is about the progress feminism has made. About how once an idea has been released it can’t be put back in its box.

Homophobia, like misogyny, is still terrible; just not as terrible as it was in, say, 1970. Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.

Rebecca Solnit

I’m going to need to reread these essays several times, just so the next person who says we don’t need feminism to me, can get a well thought out, intelligent earful about exactly why we definitely do. I struggling to put quotes in this review because I highlighted almost every other sentence. Rebecca Solnit is my new hero.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

I have been looking forward to reading this book for a while. I’ve heard GREAT things about it. I was delighted to find out it’s the next book for a book club I’ve recently joined. As I started the book, I realised that I’ve read one of her books before… for another book club… and *whispers* I didn’t really like it. And that’s stating it very mildly.  Oh no I thought, no… don’t be the same. Don’t be the same. Don’t be the same. And happily, it isn’t.

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I enjoyed The Essex Serpent. It’s about friendship, love, surgery, odd characters, social housing, religion, superstition, small towns, cities, being female, domestic abuse, sea creatures, illness, and fossils, and everything in between. Mostly it’s a book that I struggled to place in time and this is part of its point. The main character is Cora Seabourne, a well off, recently widowed woman. She moves from London and get caught up in a sleepy Blackwater Estuary village and its panic over recent sightings of a monster in the sea, the so called Essex serpent. Cora’s link to the town is the local vicar, William Ransome. There’s a wide range of other characters, including Cora’s socially conscious companion Martha, Her husband’s surgeon, Luke Garrett. There’s Luke’s rich friend. There’s Cora, Will and Luke’s friends. There’s some strange children. There’s a poor Londoner and the man who is trying to kill him. I could go on… but the story successfully links them all and draws you in.

I started off finding it a bit strange that the main female characters are supposedly younger than me, but act like much older women. If Cora met her husband 17, I think somewhere she mentions having been with him for 15 years, and she has an 11 year old son, so she’s 32!?!? She acts like she’s 60. I couldn’t reconcile the characters behaviour with the age they supposedly are. She acts like a Victorian grandma. She acts… Victorian. Oh… is she Victorian?  I honestly got to 53% of the way through before I realised the book is set over 100 year ago! This is a triumph as far as I’m concerned. The characters could so easily just be eccentric modern people. Strange ones with no phones, who like the outdoors. There are department stores, cabs, trains, modern hospitals and surgery. The people like science, and geology, and engineering. It is all consistent with Victorian England, but not the one that comes to mind when I think about Victorian times. In the picture I have in my mind it is ‘a long way in the past’ and ‘very different to today’, but actually it isn’t that much different, with the obvious absence of most modern technology. Chuck away your iPhone and you could practically be back there!

I had a bit of an issue with some character names. The surgeon is described as short and has the nickname the Imp. So now he’s Tyrion Lannister in my mind, and Cora is from Downton Abby. I don’t think these are too far from the character descriptions, but it was a bit distracting.

The plot is rich, and the characters are convincing and well rounded – they all seem like actual people in my mind. I am not going to try and describe the plot beyond what I’ve already written. It has quite a large scope in themes, though the story is geographically small. I think you might get even more out of The Essex Serpent if you are familiar with it’s very real setting. I felt this when I read The Loney, as this is set near to where I live. I am familiar with London, but the Blackwater estuary, and Colchester, I am not familiar with.

Overall, the story is good and the characters great, though they really could do with having at bit more fun every now and then. The surprising fact that it is set in Victorian times while seeming modern, and the link this gives you with those usually far off seeming times, is brilliant.

 

20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge #20booksofsummer

I’m not very good with planning my reading ahead of when I actually pick up a book and get started with it, so it’s with some trepidation that I’m putting together a list for the 20 books of summer challenge (I found out about it over at 746books).

I already know I’ll read at least 4 books for book club – I know what 3 of them will be at the moment, so need to leave a spare place… but I haven’t… I also have a few books I’m already part way into that I will definitely finish over the next few months. I will add a couple of classics, and a few trashier ones. I have to add some books from my year long challenge that isn’t quite working out as I expected – need all the help I can get with this, so making sure a few are from that challenge on this list will help! I’m also adding a few books I *really* want to read soon.

I’m lucky that I will have a 6 week holiday to help me out with this challenge! *high fives fellow teachers*

  1. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
  2. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  3. Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
  4. the Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  5. Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit
  6. Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit
  7. Nobody Told Me – Holly McNish
  8. Dear Fatty – Dawn French
  9. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
  10. The Power – Naomi Alderman
  11. The Lottery (and other stories) – Shirley Jackson
  12. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  13. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  14. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
  15. A Quiet Storm – Rachel Howzell Hall
  16. How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
  17. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  18. The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  19. Wonder – RJ Palacio
  20. The Color Purple – Alice Walker

I’m going to reserve the right to make some swaps if I need to!

Anyone else want to join in? 😀

Books Bought and Read – May 2017

Bought

I was looking to buy some inspirational, uplifting, distracting books this month so ended up with:

Killing Floor – Lee Child (paperback) Easy to read, good, popular, thriller.

A Supposedly Fun Thing You’ll Never Do Again – David Foster Wallace (paperback). Funny, apparently.

The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay (paperback). Supposedly hopeful and uplifting.

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99p kindle deals strike again:

My Booky Wook – Russell Brand (kindle book). He’s a pop culture person I find interesting for unknown reasons!

The Radium Girls – Kate Moore (kindle book) I’ve not heard of this book before but it sounds really interesting. About women who worked with radium and were told it wasn’t dangerous…

The Manifesto of How to be Interesting – Holly Bourne (kindle book). I read Am I Normal Yet? last year and LOVED it, so I had to get this too.

The Iliad – Homer (paperback). I need a project to read something classic and difficult, to educate myself more and maybe get better at quizzes. Project Iliad has started. I’ve got the Richard Lattimore translation because an evening’s research on the internet told me I should. Also, this one has a cool cover.

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Single and Single – John Le Carre (kindle book) 99p deal. Part of the slow ‘read all the John Le Carre books’ project.

I was doing really well this month. Then I went to a local charity shop where they had loads of books for 2 for 99p!!!!!!!!! So this happened:

Sharpe’s Fortress – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Enemy – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Eagle – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Trafalgar – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Havoc – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Regiment- Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Rifles – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Triumph – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Honour – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Prey – Bernard Cornwell

I have read all the Sharpe books before. I read them when I was in my early 20s and I loved them. I either gave all the books to charity, or they are still in some buried box somewhere in my house. I don’t even know, but I want to give them a re-read. They are like comfort food in book form.

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But it didn’t stop there. Just remember, 2 for 99p!!

The Return of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes.

The Revenant – Michael Punke. Husband is reading The Road and enjoying it, so thought he might enjoy this too. Well, he will if it’s as grim as the film.

Dracula – Bram Stoker. Well, why not. I’ve read Frankenstein this year, and I’d like to read Dracula too.

Faust Eric – Terry Pratchett. I’ve only read The Colour of Magic and I thought it was alright, but didn’t feel compelled to read any more in the Discworld series. I’ve always thought maybe I’m missing something, so thought I.d give this a go.

The War of the Worlds – H.G Wells. A classic I couldn’t pass on.

Finally, Vampire Blood Trilogy – Darren Shan. Because the books were 2 for 99p and I had an odd number and the lady said I could pick one more. This was the first to catch my eye.

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99p kindle deals strike again:

The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave. I has suck a beautiful cover and good reviews.

I have been buying a RIDICULOUS number of books so far this year. I’m going to have to have a clear out soon and pass some on to friends so I can fit them on the shelves again!

Read

It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis. Tedious start, but ultimately really glad I’ve read it.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – C.S. Lewis Crazy and short.

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The Good Immigrant – ed. Nikesh Shukla. Possibly the best book I’ve read so far this year. LOVED IT.

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Lion – Saroo Brierley. Amazing story of a man who got lost at 5 years old and ended up in a big city 1000s of miles away from home.

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The Secret to Not Drowning – Colette Snowden. The inner thoughts of a woman being totally controlled by her partner.

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain. Another one I’d urge everyone to read. Read it to understand yourself or any introverts in your life.

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The Awakening – Kate Chopin. 1890s New Orleans and a rich house wife decides her life is tedious and must be changed!

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Books read at bedtime to my children

Matilda – Roald Dahl

Crystallising Chaos – My Little Pony story. My daughter loves this book. I’ve had to read it a lot. *send help*

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling. Still plodding through it around about 2 times a week with my littlest. Harry has got to Hogwarts at last.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling. Finished! We read this every night with my oldest child. It’s taken a long time to get through. I suggested a break from Harry Potter, but he doesn’t want one, hence:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling. Dementors in Little Whinging. And WHO sent Aunt Petunia that Howler!?! 🙂

Book Review: The Awakening – Kate Chopin

A rich, married woman in 1890s New Orleans falls in love with a young man. She realises that she is completely dissatisfied with her life as a mother and housewife, and sets about changing her life so she is happy with it. A really evocative book about a woman’s rejection of society, and her discovery of who she really is.

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Edna Pontellier has what seems to be a pretty nice life. Her husband is a kind man – he doesn’t believe in ordering his wife about, or even worse. Her role is to, well, lounge about entertaining people from what I can gather. But she isn’t passionately in love with her husband. When she spends a summer in the company of Robert Lebrun she slowly realises that she is unfulfilled and desperately unhappy with the mundanity of life. She craves independence and passion.

An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish

As an insight into Edna’s state of mind, it’s really insightful, convincing, and beautifully written. A criticism would be that clearly Edna’s life is actually not that bad. She has an ok husband, who provides for her, is generous, and is supportive of her (so long as she behaves in away that fits in with societal expectations of her). She is expected to care for their children when their maid is not around, but she’s quite free to socialise as she likes. I’m not saying she should just put up with being unhappy, just that she actually has a whole lot of options – especially given that during the story she realises that with her paintings becoming better, she has a means to support herself.

She is quite indifferent to her children. She doesn’t have much to do with their day to day upbringing and she sends them away fairly often to her family.

She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them.

What The Awakening does really well is to describe how a daily life, living up to other peoples expectations of how she should behave, can grind you down and make you miserable. Edna decides to change things in her life…

Mr Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. But her new and unexpected line of conduct completely bewildered him. It shocked him. Then her absolute disregard for her duties as a wife angered him. When Mr Pontellier became rude, Edna grew insolent. She had resolved to never take another step backward.

Her action so far had been to ditch her usual Tuesday receiving and visiting of other society ladies. Scandalous! It’s admirable how once Edna sets out to free herself she goes for it without giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.

…she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.

You need to be aware that as it was written in the 1890s there is a lot of racist language used in the descriptions of the staff they have serving their lives. There are specific words used to describe people that refer to the colour of their parents. In fact, these terms are used in place of their names. They are just referred to as ‘the …..’ or ‘the ……’ in reference to their skin colour. The lady that brings up Edna’s children is not even given a name.

Given that the whole plot is driven by infidelity, or the idea of it, it is almost devoid of sexual interaction. This is not Jilly Cooper. When an illicit kiss happens it’s description is electric, and it’s a refection of the whole plot that she is the instigator:

She leaned over and kissed him – a soft, cool, delicate kiss, whose voluptuous sting penetrated his whole being – then she moved away from him.

It’s a fleeting glimpse into one character, but this small insight into the douchery of Robert is spectactular:

He looked at Edna’s book, which he had read; and he told her the end, to save her the trouble of wading through it, he said.

Un.be.liev.able. Run away, Edna! He’s a bad ‘un!

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

I am a quiet person. I’m an introvert. I get frustrated with people who mistake quiet for shy. Some people assume that everyone who is quiet is a wannabe extrovert who’s just too afraid to be loud. I’m quiet and I’m happy. And I don’t want to be loud and the centre of attention. I will do karaoke in front of strangers when I want to and I speak my mind (when I feel it’s appropriate). I’m not crippled by my quietness. And I don’t want to be an extrovert. Thank goodness for Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Thank you Susan Cain for writing this book.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap (though psychologists debate to what degree).

I went into Quiet knowing I would love it because it’s entirely set up to big up (so to speak) introversion and point out how introverts have enormous amounts to offer, and should be seen as just as important as extrovert voices. The ‘extrovert ideal’ world we live in is flawed because it tends to diminish and ignore the introverts. What we need is the balance that both offer.

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Quiet is an interesting book that can give you insights into both the introverts and extroverts around you. It’s serious, but also quite funny. Reading (introvert) Susan Cain’s descriptions of attending a Tony Robbins seminar to help you be more outgoing are hilarious:

“But I’m not an extrovert, you say!” he told us at the start of the seminar. “So? You don’t have to be an extrovert to feel alive!” True enough. But it seems, according to Tony, that you’d better act like one if you don’t want to flub the sales call and watch your family die like pigs in hell.

and getting a tour round an fMRI machine:

Before Schwartz opens the door, he asks me to take off my gold hoop earrings and set aside the metal tape recorder I’ve been using to record our conversation. The magnetic field of the fMRI machine is 100,000 times stronger than the earth’s gravitational pull – so strong, Schwartz says, that it could rip the earrings right out of my ears if they were magnetic and send them flying across the room. I worry about the metal fasteners of my bra, but I’m too embarrassed to ask. I point instead to my shoe buckle, which I figure has the same amount of metal as the bra strap. Schwartz says it’s all right, and we enter the room.

Quiet goes on to describe how introverts and extroverts like a different level of stimulation from the outside world to feel comfortable. Introverts get easily overstimulated and so need to retreat to a less stimulating environment more frequently. I’m massively oversimplifying the description here – it covers several chapters in the book. We tend to seek out the right level of stimulation for ourselves, naturally. By having an awareness of what is happening it can help you plan your life, social interactions and navigate relationships.

Quiet gave me some insight into why I found being a high school teacher so incredibly draining. What was I even thinking? A job where you are interacting with hundreds of people everyday. Where you are in a conflict situation frequently. It’s so clear now why I had to change things after 8 years. I now work in a sixth form college. All of the teaching and subject teaching I love with none (well, hardly any) of the conflict. So much better for my mental well being! Wish I’d finished Quiet when I vaguely started reading it (in 2011, according to goodreads)!

I knew Quiet would help me feel empowered and help me see more of the strengths I have, but I never foresaw that it would help me understand my 4 year old daughter more. My daughter shows all the traits of being quite an extrovert and honestly, I find her completely exhausting. Reading Quiet has enabled me to understand her more and has helped me be more tolerant to her loudness, sociability and constant need to be accompanied and busy and noisy! I hadn’t considered this might be a feature of Quiet at all, and it’s been quite a revelation.

I recommend this book for introverts, extroverts, everyone.  And if you can’t be bothered reading the whole lot, have a look at the conclusion chapter, it’s a beautiful summary of all of these ideas. Here are two of my favourite parts of the final chapter:

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake. And don’t worry about socialising with everyone else. Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.

Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.