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Quiet vs. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

January 29, 2012


The Ancient Library of Alexandria, an early fo...

The Royal Library of Alexandria, maybe not the oldest library in the world, but pretty darn close. No pictures of the library of Ebla were available. Image via Wikipedia

A precocious boy walked into a public library with his mother and said in a very loud voice, “This library isn’t very big!  The largest library in the world is the Library of Congress which has a world record of 29 million books and is three buildings big.  This library doesn’t even hold a million books, which means this library has less than three percent of the books that can be found in the Library of Congress.” 

The introverted librarian thought about shushing the boy but said nothing because she hoped he might calm down after a few minutes. 

Instead, the boy continued in his loud voice. 

“Did you know that the first library in the world was the Royal Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt and still is open to the public?” he asked his mother.  “I would love to check out a book from Alexandria, Egypt, but it would cost me a lot of money just to travel to Alexandria, so it would probably be cheaper just to have a librarian from Alexandria send me a book, and I could tell everybody that I checked it out from Alexandria.” 

“Ma’am,” the librarian said to the boy’s mother.  “Would you please tell your son to speak in a lower voice?” 

The mom seemed horrified that anybody would ask her child to quiet down.  “My son is very inquisitive, and you should encourage him to satisfy his curiosity rather than telling him to be quiet.”

 The librarian tried hard not to roll her eyes.

 “Then, would you please tell your son that the first library in the world was in the ancient city-state of Ebla, not in Alexandria?” the librarian asked.  “If he’s going to disturb my library, at least make sure he has his facts straight.” 


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

I’m kind of an introvert, so I was interested in this book, but the author pulled a transparent stunt in the first few pages, a cliché that was so unimaginative that I almost stopped reading.  I don’t do spoilers, so I can’t reveal what the stunt was, but it’s kind of obvious and almost a deal breaker for a hyper-critical reader like me. 

The author got back on track in the next couple chapters, especially in a section that examines the Harvard Business School method of teaching.  I have some major anti-Ivy League biases, and this chapter (the chapter itself is not anti-Ivy League) confirmed some of my notions about how Ivy League nepotism and networking has harmed the United States more than helped.  I can picture in my head a bunch of Ivy League extroverts yammering about things they know nothing about (like actually working for a living) and leaving their meeting saying things like, “Our decisions today may have destroyed the housing market, but at least my voice was heard.” 

Except an Ivy Leaguer might not admit to having made a bad decision because it would be seen as a sign of weakness. 

Please do not blame this book for my own anti-Ivy League biases. 

Quiet shows how extroverts are placed into leadership positions when the qualities that make them extroverts also sometimes lead them to make poor decisions.  The qualities that lead introverts to make good decisions can also keep them out of leadership positions. 

If you’re interested in that kind of thing (and haven’t read other books about introverts), then you may like this book (even if you don’t have an anti-Ivy League bias). 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer 

I didn’t get very far into this book before I stopped reading it, and it’s easy to explain why. 

When I was reading literary fiction in the 1980’s, I noticed that a lot of authors would fill their novels/stories with oddball trivia to show how smart they were, beef up the word count, slow down the plot to make the book move at an interminably slow pace, and add substance to the story.  Back then, authors could get away with that and seem smart.  Nowadays, even the laziest of authors can type into a search engine and appear smarter than they really are.  I should know (because I that’s what I did for the beginning of this review). 

I don’t know if Foer is really that smart or if he lives on a search engine, but I got tired of reading that kind of fiction during the 1980’s, and I have a low tolerance for that style now, especially when it’s in the voice of a nine year old boy. 

I tried to give the book a second chance by treating it like a fantasy where a kid can really be that precocious and wander around New York (kind of like The Wizard of Oz with more tragic elements). 

I thought this strategy might work because I normally like fantasy, but I prefer my fantasy to have hobbits and wizards and orcs and monsters and Frank Frazetta posters with hulking barbarians and scantily clad women in anatomically impossible positions.  So my strategy didn’t work, and I stopped reading after a few more pages. 


An introvert might be annoyed that a book called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close becomes a bestseller and is turned into a movie that gets nominated for a bunch of awards while a book named Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking gets ignored.  It’s probably tough to get a bunch of extroverts in Hollywood to make a movie about how introverts contribute to a society of extroverts. 

If you’re not annoyed by the writing style of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you’ll probably like the book because it obviously appeals to somebody out there (just not me).  If you’re interested in how introverts have to adjust in American society (you probably don’t care if you’re an extrovert because you’d rather babble on and on about your own stupid, petty lives than listen to what somebody else has to… aw, never mind)), then read Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

Personally, I’ve always preferred the quiet over the loud.

From → Literary Combat

  1. Steve permalink

    I have to say that I liked Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, myself. Anyway, the intro to your post made me laugh out loud in front of others – you know how that goes. Embarrassing. Interesting post, thanks for writing! (Yay for that librarian in the beginning of the post haha).

  2. I know what you mean about liking the book. Stuff that bothers me doesn’t bother a lot of other readers.

  3. Cassie permalink

    I can see where you wouldn’t like Foer (all his books are like that), but at the same time there’s an element of fantasy and weirdness there that I can’t get enough of. Maybe it’s because I was born in 1988 and didn’t get a chance to read that weird shit in the 80s…maybe I should go back. Hmmm…

    • And when I was around in the 1980s, I used to wonder about all that weird stuff from the 60s that I missed. And I always thought that the weird stuff from the 60s was a lot weirder than the weird stuff from the 80s. Maybe Foer will be considered weird stuff from the 2000s.

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