Book: We live in a society that favors extroverts, according to Susan Cain. As a result, introverts, who favor solitude, reflection and reserve, tend to feel afflicted with "a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology," she says. But introverts have their own strengths, aptitudes and charms, as she argues in her book Quiet (Crown, 2012). Her flattering adjectives describing introverts increase with the page numbers. Introverts tend to be cerebral, she says, and bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, gentle, calm, modest — in short, they possess many of the qualities we cherish in a trusted friend. Extraverts make great party animals, but for sensible advice and empathy you're better off seeking out an introvert any day.
Why read? Quiet can be viewed as a self-help book or a manifesto for those too self-effacing to declare their desires and ambitions. ("Introverts of the world speak up … but don't attract too much attention!") As an introvert herself, Cain speaks perceptively and with great understanding about the trait that has brought her both solace and torment. (A graduate of Harvard Law School, she once threw up on the way to class knowing she would have to stand and deliver in front of a lot of smart people.) Perhaps the best way to appreciate the paradoxical nature of introversion is by first reading her essay in the New York Times Book Review about preparing to give a TED talk about her book (An Introvert Steps Out: How the Author of 'Quiet' Delivered a Rousing Speech). Then view the speech itself ( ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html). The months of anguished preparation for the speech, which she describes in the article, juxtaposed with the charm and grace of her actual delivery, capture many of the paradoxes of the introverted. They're friendly but crave solitude; reserved but persuasive, self-possessed but not particularly self-confident. "I'm told my talk received a standing ovation," she says in her essay. "My husband keeps asking what it felt like. The truth is I don't know. I have no memory of the moment — I was too numb. That was someone else up there: my metamorphosed incarnation, the Public Introvert."
Make it: The incongruity of the introvert might be captured by pairing a discussion of Quiet with something "loud," like Bang Bang Cauliflower, which coats a bland, white vegetable with a spicy bright sauce.
Take it: And if you'd rather not cook, you might get the same effect by ordering the classic Bang Bang Shrimp at Bonefish Grill, coated with the spicy sauce no one can quite imitate.
Tom Valeo, special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send an email to email@example.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.