Category Archives: non-fiction books

Audiobook Review: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens – Eddie Izzard

I’ve decided to highlight that this was the audiobook version I read because it has so many footnotes, it must be at least double the length of the actual book. Around fourteen and a half hours worth of Eddie Izzard’s life story, and I loved it.

25187985

He’s certainly had an interesting, eventful, and quite tragic life. We start the book by finding out that his mum died when he was 6. He was then sent to boarding school with his older brother so his father could continue working. Before this happened he had a lovely time being at home with his family, hanging around with the neighbourhood kids, no idea that he would ever go to boarding school. It’s so sad reading about such a young boy being sent away.

We find out about boarding school life, and then how he spends his 20s trying to make it as a performer. He tried sketch comedy, and street performing, before finally making a success of stand up comedy when he was around 30. This highlights how determined he has been and how he grafted for a decade before getting successful, even though his early 90s rise in stand up comedy if often portrayed as swift.

There is an extraordinary amount of references to the Nuffield Physics syllabus of the 70s that he studied while doing A level physics. The syllabus was unusual in that it relied heavily on performing experiments to learn the theory. He refers back to this Nuffield syllabus at many key moments of his life, when he needed to make a decision. I found this very funny, because as an A level physics teacher, I know the course he’s referring to (as a historical A level physics course – not that I am old enough to have taken it or taught it!!!).

We don’t get many details about his personal relationships. It doesn’t detract from the book at all. Really it’s none of our business, and his life is interesting enough with out these details. We do get to hear a lot about his alternative sexuality, which is his own term for his transgender, or in the 80s transvestite, status. It terribly sad that essentially he’s had lots of issues in life because he likes wearing clothes that are traditionally female, and he likes to wear make up. I dress in traditionally mens clothes all the time and no one bats an eyelid. Society is so fucked up!

I really admire Eddie Izzard’s attitude to so many aspects of his life. I love him when he’s talking about atheism. And his footnotes are well worth getting the audiobook version for. His determination really shines through his entire life and follows him all the way to his Sport Relief mega marathon challenges.

Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of his comedy. I will clearly need to seek some out very soon.

Advertisements

Book Review: Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

The back of the book blurb says:

At a time when political, environmental and social gloom can seem overpowering, this remarkable work offers a lucid, affirmative and well-argued case for hope.

I’m already sold. Politics – mental. Check! Environmental predictions – dire. Check! Social issues – overwhelming. Triple check! I need this book right now. And I absolutely loved it. I’ve struggled to get this review written because I have felt like I’m not capable of conveying how brilliant it is. It’s made me feel hopeful about the future and like I can make a difference to the world. That’s some achievement for a book that’s only 142 pages long.

hopeinthedark3.JPG

That brew is perfect. Anyone who might make me a cup of tea in the future, please take note. 

I read most of Hope In The Dark during the week when we had actual white supremacist Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. I still can’t see, hear, or read that without doing a huge internal WTF? They are fracking a few miles away from my house. People in positions of power are denying climate change. We are exiting the EU. And the Conservatives are in power a-frigging-gain. It’s ALL TOO MUCH. and that’s not even the half of it.

1447462_ca_0615_conversation

Rebecca Solnit. Picture from https://umpsychogeography.wordpress.com/the-writer-as-walker/rebecca-solnit/

Hope In The Dark is a collection of 21 short essays. It was was written in 2004 in the wake of the second election of President Bush. Rebecca Solnit is American and so American politics are important to the book, but it covers global issues. The copy I read is a 2016 update and has a new foreward, a new afterward, and two new essays concerning 2009 and 2014. It falls cliffhangingly short of a Donald Trump presidency!

hopeinthedark

The dark in the title of the book is the future. The dark is the unknown. It’s not that its dark and terrible, it’s just unknown. As she points out in the book, in the 1980s we couldn’t have predicted the internet in 20 years time, for example. We never know the future and so we can’t predict how our efforts will affect it. We should do things we believe are right, we should have hope that they can affect the future positively because they might, and probably will. In Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit gives us examples of when small acts of activism, that may have felt hopeless to the people involved at the time, have gone on to influence great changes in the world. Hope In The Dark is a call to arms to be more politically active and more engaged. It’s clear about how even small acts can have great effects.

Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what we may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they all matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

 

The right and left of politics both come in for criticism. The right for getting their followers to focus on the wrong problem. i.e. countryside dwellers being most afraid of terrorism and crime even though statistically they are least likely to be affected. The left get it in the neck for focusing singularly on the biggest issues and therefore becoming so full of despair there is inaction. This criticism of the left was really useful to me. I’m good at seeing what the right do wrong already 🙂

Forgive me for not giving the full context of this next quote, but I love the phrasing:

the despairing were deeply attached to their despair, so much so I came to refer to my project as stealing the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left.

hopeinthedark2

Reading some of Hope In The Dark at Bluedot Festival 

The stories covered are global and I read a lot of Hope learning about world issues from the last 20 years that I either didn’t know anything about, or only had vague knowledge of. I’m deliberately not going into too much detail here, because I want you to go and read it for yourself! I could never do it justice here.

… hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch , feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.

I’ve concentrated so far on the political aspects of Hope In The Dark, but the environmental parts rang true for me as well. I’m concerned about climate change and our global response to it, and it’s heartening to read about some environmental successes around the world. There is a fracking site a few miles from my house and this is a massive concern. Reading about some successful American campaigns against fracking was really encouraging.

It’s always too soon to go home.

hopeinthedark4.JPG

Yes, a fish finger butty. Food of the Gods. 

I badly want to read an update written even more recently with Rebecca Solnit’s take on the Trump presidency. In fact, maybe that exists out there somewhere… *checks internet and wins*. I’m going to see her talk at Manchester Literature Festival in October and I can not wait. Her new book on feminism has just been released – The Mother Of All Questions: Further Feminisms, a follow up to Men Explain Things To Me (my review here. Guess what I LOVED THAT TOO).

Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.

Thank God Rebecca Solnit is a prolific writer because I just want to read everything she’s written. I saw this on Caroline Criado-Perez‘s twitter and I totally agree!

 

giphy

This is the sort of book that I wished I had an extra secret higher level of recommendation to give it. I LOVED it. It’s exactly what you need if you feel despair with current politics, current environmental issues, or social issues (i.e. everyone, surely?!?) Please read it!!!!

We are not who we were not very long ago.

 

Book Review: Anger is an Energy – John Lydon

I like John Lydon. He is straight to the point and I agree with a lot of his core attitudes and beliefs. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says, and boy, does he have a lot to say. At almost 520 pages this is no quick read. Still, I loved every minute of it. You are fully getting his no holds barred opinions here. Or if he is holding back, you certainly can’t tell!

If you stand up for whatever it is you really believe in, if you really stand up, and be accounted for, people will rate you highly.

angerenergy.JPG

Anger is an Energy on the kindle with some other punk books!

His account of the Sex Pistols days is fascinating and quite sad. He felt alone and disregarded and/or ignored by the rest of the band most of the time. It comes across that the other three (Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook) never really accepted him fully into the band, as they already formed the band before John came along. I have no doubt that John, as he freely admits, isn’t the easiest person to get along with! and he just rubbed them up the wrong way (a theme throughout the book). I would definitely like to read some other accounts of that time period to get some other perspectives on what happened. As you can see from the picture above, I have Steve Jones’ book ready to go.

00002tmp

L-R Glen Matlock, John Lydon, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook.

 

It is fascinating though. That band were truly at the heart of an amazing moment in history. It probably helps that I’m a fan of punk rock. I love his scorn of the majority of punk bands. I share a lot of the same views. So many identikit bands trying to out macho each other. Repulsive. The bands he praises are all stand out bands like the Buzzcocks. He hates that punk quickly became very narrow in its definition: there’s a certain uniform, a haircut, a way of treating people, a sound – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t conform. John refuses to be narrowly defined – especially musically, but actually in every aspect of his life, and so he gets constant abuse in his life beyond the Sex Pistols. A constant minority who seek him out and are angry because he ‘sold out’. In other words, he dared to move on and try new things that musically interest him.

Being open-minded to all kinds of music was Lesson One in punk, but that didn’t seem to be understood by many of the alleged punk bands that followed on after, who seemed to be waving this idea of a punk manifesto. I’m sorry, but I never did this for the narrow-minded. I was horrified by the cliche that punk was turning into.

gallery-1430259693-teddyboy-cred-adrian-boot

The Sex Pistols after Sid Vicious had replace Glen Matlock. L-R Steve Jones, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Paul Cook. 

Earlier in the book we get some of his home life growing up. He’s from a very working class London background. His descriptions of himself at school were great and really clear – I know EXACTLY what sort of student he would have been in my classroom – one of those cheeky, annoying but lovable ones! Frustrated with their lack of effort because you can’t follow their particular interest all the time. Full of questions that are related, but are a distraction to what you actually need to teach that day. Oh, sorry, just having high school teaching flash backs there!

His move from a school to basically a technical college for naughty kids chucked out of school is interesting and there he meets Sid. I love this quote about his time at the technical college. The idea that he still wore his school uniform is absurd, and says so much about his personality!

It was basically just school by any stretch, so I wore my William of York uniform still, because I didn’t want to wear anything that I liked. But it was a bit of a fashion parade. Sidney certainly used it as a catwalk.

After Glen Matlock leaves the Sex Pistols, Sid is brought in and the break up of the band seems almost inevitable at this point. It’s such a dysfunctional relationship they all have.

sex-pistols-5041ff2ab1b3c

Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten (aka John Ritchie and John Lydon)

After the Sex Pistols you get a lot of details about line up and management changes for Public Image Limited (PiL). I’m not familiar with the musicians from this band, and didn’t know any of the many people discussed. It’s still interesting, but in more of a vague way of seeing how all over the place the band and John’s life was. This continues up until the later 90s where you get a Sex Pistols reunion tour. Then in the 2000s there is I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here – which I remember watching because Lydon was on it. Followed by a few nature programs he makes. And of course the infamous butter commercials!

john-lydon202

John Lydon by Paul Heartfield from http://www.clashmusic.com/features/in-conversation-john-lydon

At this stage you discover that Lydon, and his wife Nora, begin to parent Nora’s grandchildren. It’s a sweet part of the book where he explains how they had to change their lives to give everything they could to these wild teenagers that they were suddenly responsible for. All the parts of the book where he describes his love for Nora are quite beautiful. They fell in love when they met during the Sex Pistols time, in 1975, and they are still together today.

Overall, this is a great book. It possibly helps if you have some interest in Lydon to begin with, but I imagine you must if you are considering reading 520 pages about him! It’s glorious that there is a note from the publisher at the beginning basically begging you to not sent in grammatical errors from the text – Lydon has his own way of using English and the ‘mistakes’ are just how he is talking!

angerenergyintro.JPG

‘Don’t let tiffles cause fraction’

Lydon is upfront, unapologetic, harsh, and uncompromising. But he’s also a family man, loyal, a supporter of education, and interested in everything the world has to offer. There’s a place for him at the table of my imaginary perfect dinner party anyway.

Book Review: Nasty Women – 404 ink

Nasty Women is a collection of 21 short essays by women about life in the 21st century. It’s interesting and wide ranging and I really enjoyed reading it.

41aalgyb8hl-_sx317_bo1204203200_

 

There’s so many subjects covered, from being Puerto Rican and living under a Trump presidency, to being a fat person and taking a flight. There is being a black woman in Scotland, brexit, pregnancy, contraception, class, immigration, loving Courtney Love, and much more.

The very first story is from an American, living in America. Combined with the Hillary Clinton reference in the title, I assumed it was a collection from mostly American writers. I was very wrong. A lot of the writers live in Scotland, and this makes a nice change from being London-, or US- centric.

There are several stories about women and punk rock and I particularly loved these because I completely recognised the issues in them. The stories are so wide ranging though, that there will be something for everyone in here. These just happen to be the stories I could identify with the most. From Why I’m No Longer a Punk Rock ‘Cool Girl’ by Kristy Diaz:

Let that shit go. Never deny yourself the music you enjoy. Sing and scream along with every breath. Collaborate with women and other marginalised groups in punk, rally around each other, protect and support each other and invest energy in creating. Never apologise for an inch of space you occupy and answer to no-one. Fuck it up at DIY shows and dance to pop music recklessly, wearing heels and glitter and jeans and cut up T-shirts, Be taught nothing. You know everything.

– Kristy Diaz

I particularly loved the story ‘Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You’: Cultural Resistance to Gendered Violence in the Punk Rock Community by Ren Aldridge. Ren is the singer in the band The Petrol Girls. I haven’t heard them before so I looked them up and they are BRILLIANT.  Perfect, especially considering I’ve been looking at my own sexist listening habits recently. The gendered violence she describes is something I’m familiar with from being involved in the punk rock community. Her explanation of her use of the term survivor is great, using it rather than victim, and giving permission to use the word with a Destiny’s Child soundtrack, which I’m sure everyone does mostly anyway, right? Understanding that there is a continuum of gendered violence is also important, from everyday harassment to sexual assault and rape. An important observation is

…as one survivor quoted in Salvage points out ‘I think with radical circles, 9 times out of 10, it’s just a microcosm of what already exists, just with different haircuts.’ Activist and punk circles claim to counter mainstream society whilst reproducing the exact same power dynamics, focusing their efforts outside whilst not considering what’s happening inside.

-Ren Aldridge

There’s also the fact that the scene is

completely dominated by white people, despite anti-racism being a core of punk and other radical left groups’ politics.

I love that the essay goes on to detail some action that is being taken to try and address gendered violence in punk rock. The article is so quotable, I’m trying really hard to limit myself to just a few here. Instead, here is the fabulously appropriate and great song, Touch me Again, referenced in the title to this essay in Nasty Women:

What a bonus. Reading a great book, through it discovering a great band, and finding that they are playing a festival I’m going to in 2 weeks! I had already made it my mission to seek out and support female and BAME artists at the punk festival. I now especially can’t wait. 😀

Other highlights in Nasty Women include Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan, and Lament: Living With the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor. The contraception story reminded me a lot of the issues in Inferior by Angela Saini:

I didn’t realise, back when I embarked on this journey at the age of 18, just how far contraception and women’s health still have to go. I learned that the hard way. Whether that’s the result of institutional sexism in the medical profession or simply a matter of where we are in the timeline of medical developments may be debatable, but the fact remains that there are plenty of women out there in my situation, with messy and uncontrollable bodies and situations, for whom ‘woman’ feels more like a diagnosis than a sex category.

– Jen McGregor

The Trump election was the trigger for Nasty Women being created. You find out in the afterword that the day the US election result was announced they put the idea together. Within 17 weeks it was published. My only criticism is that some of the stories seemed rushed. Overall it’s a great collection and I really highly recommend reading it, but a few stories fell a little flat. I’m not going to single them out, especially as the ones that didn’t work for me might just be the ones that sing to you. It’s just that when I read at the end that it was put together quickly it gave me an ‘oh, I seeeeee’ moment.

423b16d800000578-4686946-image-a-30_1499807267278

The overarching message from Nasty Women, is be a ‘nasty women’. Stand up for yourself and look out for each other. *group hug*

p.s I received a review copy of Nasty Women from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks NetGalley – I loved this one.

 

Book Review: Inferior – Angela Saini

Inferior is a stunning book about the science of the difference between the sexes. Where there is scientific evidence for differences, where more evidence is required, and importantly, where scientists have allowed societal beliefs about women to cloud their scientific judgement about sex differences.

IMG_6051.JPG

Rubbish picture of my kindle. The paperback is sooooooo pretty as well!

Reading Inferior will probably make you frustrated, annoyed and unfortunately, not surprised. If you are anything like me, you will be highlighting furiously and telling everyone you meet about what you’ve just read.

For centuries, scientists have influenced decision-makers on important issues including abortion rights, granting women the vote, and how schools educate us. They have shaped how we think about our minds and bodies, and our relationships with each other. And of course, we trust scientists to give us the objective facts. We believe that what science offers is a  story free from prejudice. It is the story of us, starting from the very dawn of evolution. Yet when it comes to women, so much of this story is wrong.

Angela Saini

It covers a wide range of topics: where scientists beliefs have clouded their science, the ignoring of women in some entire areas of science (e.g. evolutionary biology), drug testing almost exclusively on men, science used as another way of controlling women, and beliefs about women’s inferiority being used to deny women education and positions of power and responsibility. It also covers how once women were given access to carrying out scientific research, their results were often credited to men. And so much more… I mean, Marie Curie, with her Nobel prize in physics and her Nobel prize in chemistry couldn’t join France’s Academy of Sciences in 1911 because she was a woman. And Harvard Medical School only started admitting women in 1945.

IMG_6069.JPG

The best of lines. 

I would say everyone who is a woman, or knows a woman should read this book. Thank you Angela Saini for writing Inferior. I loved it!

saini-inferior

see how gorgeous the paper back looks? pic from the Independent. 

 

P.S. I was provided with a copy of Inferior to review by NetGalley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

ana-teresa-fernandez-painting-16

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.

IMG_5395

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.

tumblr_nlzdo2hrvl1u8wv3to1_1280

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.

tenor

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: 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.

17204619

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.