Recent reads

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

It’s been a year or two since I first saw Susan Cain’s compelling TEDTalk on the power of introverts. When she spoke about how modern classrooms are geared towards extroverted children and developing group social skills and how that often stifles individual creativity, it made me reflect on how I structure my classroom, our activities and our assignments. So much of our class time is dedicated to brainstorming, discussing or learning together as a group. There are many academic, social and practical reasons why that is. But thinking back to my school days, I remember being introverted and disliking group work because I found it unproductive and strangely competitive. I did not enjoy taking leadership roles but often felt forced into them. In today’s Canadian classroom, it is very typical to have group-centred activities and an emphasis on group learning and interaction. There are surely a number of introverted individuals in my classroom so why is it that we are spending an inordinate amount of time doing activities that are geared towards extroverts and thus putting more value on extroverted ideals?

Cain’s book further discusses the topics from her TEDTalk with reference to psychological research, personal experience and interviews. One big realization that I reached after reading her book was that I have not “overcome” my introversion over the years so that I can become a teacher, but that I am now able to be extroverted when it comes to something I am passionate about if it so requires. I recommend this book to teachers, people who identify themselves as introverts and parents of introverted children.

***

 

When You Are Engulfed in Flames – David Sedaris

In this collection of essays, David Sedaris introduces us to a cast of quirky characters and side-splitting laughter worthy plot lines from his own life. I connected with the sections on his life in Japan because of the nostalgia it brought me. The humour is for an older audience so please read only if you are comfortable with more mature subject matter and explicit language.

 

And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

Like Hosseini’s other novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, this book takes the reader on a journey through place and time. He expertly weaves together the stories of several captivating characters starting with Abdullah and his sister Pari, a young brother and sister torn apart when Pari is sold to a rich, childless couple in Kabul. One of storylines that interested me most was of Idris, a shy and socially awkward Afghan-American doctor who promises to help an Afghan girl waiting for facial reconstruction surgery but ultimately lets her down when he returns home to America. So many of us are guilty of making empty promises like Idris and rationalizing it when we aren’t able to follow through. Not all of the stories are tied up neatly but Hosseini revisits Abdullah and Pari’s heartbreaking story decades later to bring his beautiful book to a close.

I enjoyed this book immensely because of Hosseini’s fluid writing and interesting characters. It wasn’t as emotionally jarring as his other two books, which may be one of the reasons I thought it was his best yet.

 

*****

 

The Circle – Dave Eggers

This fiction novel, centring around a new hire at a Google-esque technology company called The Circle, is a thrilling read. Set in a not-too-distant future where people are aggressively dependent on social networking and instant feedback, The Circle gives us a glimpse of what could happen if we continue on our present trajectory of liking, linking and living our lives online.

I couldn’t help feeling that the writing had a YA-feel to it, but that could be partially attributed to the popularity of dystopian themes in young adult fiction right now. This book would be an interesting read for a senior lit circle.

 

*****

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Told from Death’s perspective, this book tells the story of a young girl who is taken in by foster parents in WWII-era Germany. Zusak creates and develops many interesting relationships between Liesel and the people in her new life, including a young Jewish man her foster father takes in and hides in their basement. This book provides a different look at Nazi Germany and the complex struggle of many Germans.

Zusak’s powerful imagery allowed me to visualize moments in the book. I particularly enjoyed watching the movie adaptation afterwards and comparing some of those moments to the director’s interpretation. Many sequences that I thought were important to the story were excluded from the movie so it’s worth it to read the book even if you have already seen the film.

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