Tag Archives: self-acceptance

There’s a Kind of Hush

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (Crown, $26.00, 352 pages)

If you’re an introvert, should you devote your energies to activities that come naturally, or should you stretch yourself…?

Quiet grants a marvelous sense of relief to anyone who has been concerned because they are easily tired by energetic crowds, fierce competition or small talk with strangers.   Susan Cain, a former Wall Street attorney specializing in negotiation, has made good use of her natural inclinication to be an introvert.   This book is the culmination of literally a lifetime of being one of the quiet people.

Ms. Cain took a long, thoughtful look at the existing literature and studies focused on extroversion vs. introversion.   Moreover, she travelled around meeting with various well-respected experts in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to assure that her book would contain the latest in findings.   In addition, Ms. Cain is a consultant to businesses and professionals who are seeking the skills to succeed in a culture that has, within the last 100 plus years, shifted from valuing character above any other human characteristic, to one that dotes on fame, aggression, group thinking and power.   Her expertise and ability to see both sides of the issue lend great credibility to her writing.

The book begins by explaining how we have arrived at a new set of values only recently that has been embraced by business, politics and popular culture.   The current cultural ideal is the Mighty Likeable Fellow that replaced the person who exemplified the Culture of Character in the 19th century when the ideal self was serious, disciplined and honorable.   We are told that Dale Carnegie was the first well-known speaker and teacher to gather the hapless masses to his events so that they may “win friends and influence people.”   His books are still in print and his work is carried on in the 21st century through seminars, etc.

Today’s counterpart ot Dale Carnegie is Tony Robbins whose Unleash the Power Within program has been attended by thousands of people seeking to become the ideal person/salesman.   This reviewer had the experience of staying at a Hyatt Regency atrium hotel where Mr. Robbins was conducting one of his seminars.   I will own up to the fact that I am an introvert who is never-the-less able to deliver speeches to hundreds of folks on topics that matter to me.   And, no, I don’t get sweaty palms or stage fright!

After a long day filled with much discussion among licensed professionals who were deliberating very serious public health, safety and welfare matters, I adjourned to my third floor hotel room that was facing the atrium.   To my dismay, at 9:30 p.m. the Robbins acolytes proceeded to perform the famous fire walk, complete with chanting, whooping and hollering.   Needless to say, I fled to the far corner of my room, pushed earplugs into position and wished for it to be over soon.   By 11 p.m. I was exhausted and nearly in tears.   Finally, the last fire-walker completed the dash and the group disbanded.

The above-described event could have been exciting, stimulating and entertaining; however, it had the opposite effect.   When I returned home and described the goings on to my immediate co-workers back at my office, most of them could not understand why I didn’t rush down to enjoy the excitement.   That puzzled and even upset me.   Some 15 years later Ms. Cain’s book recently came into my possession and it has provided the answer to that old puzzle.

As in any engaging survey, Quiet begins with a few historic elements that capture the reader’s attention – Rosa Parks’ refusal to obey the bus driver in 1955 along with background on Carl Yung and other pioneers in the study of psychology, as well as clearly identifiable introverts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.   It proceeds to explain the logic behind today’s culture from a popular perspective and moves on to the physiological reasons behind the brain’s response to stimulus.   From there it explores the geographic clustering of introversion and extroversion in societies around the world.   Lastly, Quiet offers really helpful suggestions for understanding the difference between the two types.   (Actually, the extroversion and introversion tendencies that people have can be plotted graphically and they are more of a band with locations rather than two poles.)

If you’re wondering if you are more introverted or extroverted, or if you have a good idea, this book is well-worth the time and money to broaden your understanding of how we function in today’s atmosphere of fame and larger-than-life personalities.

As Ms. Cain so engagingly states, “If there is only one insight you take away from this book, though, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.”

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow (Gotham Reprint, $16.00, 352 pages)

“There were times…  when Kelly felt desperate, confused and shattered.   But she also embraced and loved.   And that sustained her.”

There are books that you read, and put down because they are not what you expected.   This is a book that you will read and occasionally put down for another reason – in order not to finish it too quickly.   It is a book to savor and embrace, whether you are female or male.

This is a nonfiction tribute to a 40-year-old friendship among the 10 surviving members of an 11-member high school clique.   They are a group of women who “reached maturity in the age when feminism was blooming.”   They grew up with the theme of empowerment resounding in the air.   Consider that on TV they watched not “I Love Lucy” or “Father Knows Best” but instead “Wonder Woman,” “Bionic Woman” and “Charlie’s Angels.”

The original group of 11 girls – Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana and Sheila – grew up in the relatively small community of Ames, Iowa; a place where they were literally surrounded by corn fields.   The corn there grows so high that it can hide cars.

This is a telling of the lives of this group (a real-life version of the story told in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group) and their lives are touched with successes, tragedy, divorce, illness and death.   The outgoing Sheila was to die in her twenties under strange circumstances that have never been fully resolved.   In addition, the children of the group members have been affected by serious illness and two members of the remaining group have battled breast cancer.   On the flip side, a member of the group first became a mother at the age of 45.

“Having a close group of friends helps people sleep better, improve their immune systems, boost their self-esteem, stave off dementia, and actually live longer.   The Ames girls just feel the benefits in their guts.”

This book does its best in focusing on why it is vital for women “to nurture female friendships.”   We’re told, for example, “Research shows that women with advanced breast cancer have better survival rates if they have close friends.”   The matter of the peace and acceptance that accompanies aging is also well noted in The Girls From Ames.   “By their mid-forties, women know they’re at a crossroads.   They are still holding on to their younger selves, but they can also see their older selves pretty clearly.”

The one aspect of the book that may be slightly troubling is that males, particularly husbands and fathers, tend to come off as pale by comparison.   The men in the lives of these women are depicted as not being highly communicative, especially among other men (that is not how they get their needs met), and yet they are generally well-loved.   At one point the women of the group are asked to rate their husbands/partners, and the average score came out to 8.2 on a 10-point scale.   All in all, a very good score!

One man was asked to consider reading this book and he declined sending this message via e-mail:  “Unfortunately, I do not have plans to read the book, but please convey to the girls from Ames that I think they are pretty hot.”   That was from Tom (60 years old) in Ohio.

The girls from Ames are now mothers and female role models in their own communities.   But most of all they remain the best of friends.   They are friends, survivors and a mutual support network.   They have all been battered a bit by life and, except for the still greatly missed Sheila, they have made it through.

This would be a great selection for almost any book club, even one that includes a male or two.   The very best news is that the story of the women from Ames will continue.   The 13 daughters of the 10 women are extremely good friends.   Bravo!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   This review is dedicated to the memory of Jeffrey Lloyd Zaslow, who was killed in an auto accident on February 10, 2012.

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Torn Between Two Lovers

A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life by Bethenny Frankel with Eve Adamson (Touchstone; $24.99; 336 pages) or The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brenne Brown (Hazelden Publishing; $14.95; 260 pages)

Let’s be practical and admit that one size does not fit all.   For that matter, one approach to self-realization is not the answer for everyone.   With that in mind these two books are being reviewed in a comparison of sorts.

Each of the authors is a well-known figure with their own realm.   Bethenny Frankel has accomplished the following: hosting her own reality TV show – Bethenny Ever After, developing a wildly popular beverage line – Skinny Girl Margaritas, which she has recently sold to the big boys of the adult beverage industry, and writing several well-received books relating to her expertise in dieting and healthy cooking.   Dr. Brenne Brown is also the author of several books, a university professor and a licensed social worker in the state of Texas.   She is an expert in the area of shame and her findings have been featured on Public Broadcasting as well as on commercial television, including the Oprah Show.Both women are mothers and profess to be very happily married to their respective husbands.   They share the need to overcome traumas from their childhoods that have had great impact on their adult lives.   The reader is presented with 10 steps to use in moving toward a better life that the author has crafted based on her own growth and development.   In Bethenny’s case, the 10 rules for living are dished up with a generous helping of her life story and in Brene’s, they are guideposts based on her qualitative research of the notion of wholehearted living along with glimpses into her life.

You may be seeking a wholehearted life or wish to come from a place of yes.   These are the two concepts featured in the books.   The reader is addressed directly by the authors and made privy to rather personal information that serves to create a somewhat therapeutic relationship.   Both of them provide insights into the notion of leading a satisfying and fulfilling life.   Here is where the similarities end.

Bethenny sounds like the New Yorker she is and comes off as a combination cheerleader/Dutch uncle – in a good way.   There’s plenty of straight talk offered in a smart, funny convincing style.   Her freewheeling, no guts, no glory approach to life’s challenges is blunt and direct.   She urges the reader to break the chain that anchors the reader to the past.   Yes, s**t happens and something happened to you.   The reader is told to quit looking back letting what happened then shape your life now.

Brene uses a voice as one would imagine coming from a credentialed university professor and lecturer.   Moreover, her publisher, Hazelden, is a well-respected institution in the field of addiction treatment and recovery.   Her style can best be described as reporting out, speaking directly to the reader using conclusions she has reached after years of carefully conducted research.   The gently encouraging guideposts are clearly non-threatening.   A sense of disclosure reminiscent of a Twelve-Step meeting permeates the book.

The choice is up to you!   Regardless of your style preference, the book you choose will be quite engaging and may even get you to move your life in a better direction.   Highly recommended are both books.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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True Colors

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman (Spiegel & Grau)

“Cancel my subscription to the resurrection/ Send my credentials to the house of detention/ I got some friends inside.”   The Doors (“When the Music’s Over”)

“This was the penitence that sometimes happens in the penitentiary.”   Piper Kerman

Orange is the New Black is the primarily angry, but eventually calming memoir from Piper Kerman, a young woman who was locked up for more than a year in the Danbury federal correctional facility.   Her case is somewhat unique not only because she is white and raised middle-class (a graduate of Smith College) but because she had a decade-long wait between her arrest on drug charges and her incarceration.   Kerman had ten years to wonder whether she was going to be behind the bars in a so-called Club Fed or a type of nightmarish facility where her personal safety would be at risk among hardcore offenders.

When Kernan is sentenced to serve her relatively short 15 months term in Danbury, she has found a boyfriend/prospective husband in New York City, and is leading a stable life.   Being forced to leave this behind results in this true story that begins with a lot of hostility expressed in words that begin with “f” and “s”; they appear on about every other page.   This reviewer was surprised that an editor had not elected to remove the terms which became repetitive and annoying.

Early on, Kerman also expresses anger at the federal prosecutors who tried one of her fellow inmates:  “I wondered what U.S. attorney was enjoying that particular notch in his or her belt.”   This appears to be the opposite of blaming the victim.   Instead of blaming herself or her fellow inmates for their crimes, Kerman attempts to label the criminal justice system’s officials as evil.   It just does not work.   As they say, if you can’t do the time then don’t do the crime.

After some months are spent at Danbury, Kerman comes to find that she has a second family among the group of women she encounters and resides with.   This results in her continuing her memoir in a calmer voice…   We can literally feel the calmness and acceptance that attaches to her story.   This is when she talks of penitence and accepting the harm she has caused to her future husband and family members and friends.   It is also when she sees that she has true friends who stick by her when the going gets tough.

Kerman begins to so highly value her fellow inmates that when any one of them is released, it becomes more a time of sorrow and regret than elation.   This reminds the reviewer of another flaw with the editing of Orange.   Each time that Kerman writes of the departure of another inmate, the reader is told that the departing inmate’s prison affects will be distributed to those left behind.   This point is raised too many times, although we understand that Kerman looks forward to giving away her own prison garbs and possessions when she leaves.

In the end, a painful tale of incarceration winds up as a positive story of self-acceptance.   Kerman cannot change what she did as a reckless youth – one without the best of judgement – seeking excitement.   But in prison she comes to see that she can and will value her life from this point forward.   Upon her release, she runs toward the future, “No one can stop me.”

The journey that Piper Kerman takes the reader on in this memoir is at times a rocky one on a winding road, but the destination makes the journey worthwhile.   Well done.

Recommended.

A pre-release review copy was provided by the publisher.

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