Saturday, August 29, 2015

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


This book is both a source of fascinating information and an engagingly easy-to-read text. The author deftly ties together research results, personal experience, and anecdotes gathered from interview subjects.

In the introduction, on page 15, the author writes that, at the very least, she hopes the book will offer a "newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself." Indeed, that is exactly what I got.

At the core of the book is the presentation of the "extrovert ideal" - the idea that in American society, extroversion is praised and valued. This book serves to inform us that introverts, too, have a legitimate and important place in society.

Reading this book on the heels of Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, I was especially pleased whenever the author made mention of Elaine Aron and her work studying the "highly sensitive" personality trait. I honestly feel that these two books together have actually helped me to better understand myself. I really think this book has empowered me to more boldly adopt a more extroverted persona when necessary, but also to cut myself some more slack when indulging my introverted nature.

I was even quite surprised to learn that, despite answering "true" to literally every single statement in the introversion self-test, I actually deal with conflict in close personal relationships in a very extroverted way!

I was particularly interested in the chapter on Asian-Americans. As an Asian-American myself, and a follower of Asian-American media outlets, I have read countless articles about Asian-Americans being the model minority, excelling in school but not in the workplace, being stereotyped as bookish, quiet, and unassuming. I was excited to read the chapter, but also wary... A Caucasian woman writing about Asian-Americans in the mainstream media? What if she got it wrong? Well, I do know that some people have bristled at this chapter because of the broad sweeping generalizations made to Asian cultures that ultimately served to reinforce the model minority myth. In the end, I guess I gave the chapter a pass because, I confess, the anecdotes described in this chapter did indeed echo my own personal experiences.

I also appreciated the chapter on how to raise an introverted child. Mostly it said to just be aware of your child's temperament, allow them to be themselves, and support them in their endeavors, even if they don't fit in with the extroverted ideal that is so highly regarded in school-aged children. Maybe some more specific information would have been nice, but this isn't a parenting book, so really, this book gave just enough information to get started, if you think your child is an introvert.

The author comfortingly closes the book with a conclusion that urges the reader, on page 264, to "put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk."

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)


Really eye-opening!

I LOVE Mary Poppins the movie, but I haven't read the books (yet). I had heard before that the movie was quite different, but I had no idea that the original characters were based on P.L. Travers's own family. No wonder she was so upset to see her family members re-cast in completely different ways. I truly felt for P.L. Travers, both when she was young and when she was grown.

A must-see for any fan of the movie or books. And now I really need to make time to read the books!

Tuck Everlasting (2002)


I watched this movie only because I recently read the book, and straight from the beginning, I was pleasantly surprised.

I liked that Winnie Foster is older in the movie than in the book, and I liked that the Tucks were not caught completely off-guard by the strange man. I especially liked that Winnie spent an indeterminate amount of time with the Tucks, and so had the time to really get to know them. And I really loved how the sunlight streaming through the woods was beautifully captured on film.

I thought the sensual dancing in the woods was a bit much, though. And I didn't understand why the prison escape was changed. Why was it okay to reveal their secret to the prison guard?!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt


An enchanting story about immortality, but it left me feeling sad, maybe even philosophical (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but unexpected from a children's book). There was no real resolution. What will happen to the Tucks? How does one really go on living forever? Even vampires and the Highlander can die in one horrific way each - via a stake through the heart, or a beheading, respectively. Are the Tucks truly immortal, unless maybe they are struck by lightning (as suggested at the very end)?

While beautifully written, the story started too quickly for my taste. In one broad sweep, I both met the Tucks and saw their impending doom. All at once, we were introduced to the Tucks, Winnie, and the creepy stranger. I think I could have felt even more invested in the Tucks' plight if we had seen a bit more of their carefree yet lonely days before meeting Winnie. And I could have better understood Winnie's love for the Tucks if she had spent more than just one night with them, if she had even had a few encounters over a few days, before the creepy stranger showed up.

I actually thought the book was kind of intellectually and emotionally heavy for a kids' book. First and foremost, the idea that the Tucks live forever isn't treated lightly, like a fairy tale enchantment. Angus Tuck earnestly tries to impart to the 10-year-old Winnie the lesson that life is a circle of birth and death, and that life without death isn't really living, but just being. That even if you don't want to die, to live forever - especially in secret - is not something you would want, either, if you really understood what it meant. Is immortality a blessing? Or a curse? Maybe it depends on the person, but by the time you find out how you really feel, it may be too late. Beyond that, there's also a murder and talk about gallows. Of course, none of that fazed Isabelle. She liked the book just fine.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes


This book is wonderful.

I never would have picked it up on my own. I had never heard of it or the author. Isabelle found it at the library, and I decided to read it because the African-American girl on the cover piqued my interest. I am a big fan of multiculturalism in literature, though I admit, as an Asian-American, I tend to seek out books by and about Asian-Americans. I can't speak to the authenticity of the African-American experience in this book, but as a reader, I was drawn into the world of the Louisiana bayou along with Maddy, the main character, and I didn't want to leave.

Firstly, this book is beautifully written. The writing is very descriptive, even poetic. Metaphors abound.

Maddy, the main character, is a city girl from New Orleans who is sent to spend the summer with her grandmother in the Louisiana bayou. She meets a boy named Bear who is self-reliant, independent, and at one with nature. He is a compelling character, and once I met him, I wanted to read more about him.

As Maddy is introduced to the bayou, there is a bit of a lesson about environmentalism. As the book progresses, the lesson becomes explicit, a central theme.

Faith in things unseen is also an important message. There's a bit of magic realism as Maddy discovers, and struggles to understand, some "gifts" she inherited through her maternal ancestors.

About two-thirds of the way through the book, the story takes a very serious turn. Though the events were predictable, having suspected that they would happen did not detract from the book because I was already invested in the characters, and I wanted to see how the story would end.

For the parents out there who like to know what to expect, I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that this book doesn't hide the fact that life is complicated. There is a death, and a violent drunk. But both are handled in as gentle a manner as you might expect when narrated from the perspective of a thoughtful 10-year-old girl.