Friday, August 30, 2013

two books that think they're tv specials

Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cain (Crown)
Maphead: charting the wide, weird world of geography wonks by Ken Jennings (Scribner)

These two books seem to exist for the purpose of assuring the people described in them that they're not alone. And, of course, my primary egoscanning interest in them was in seeing how well I fit. Some things, but not others. Of Cain's twenty, I think (both books have gone back to the library) characteristics of introversion, about 12 sounded like me and 5 were definitely not me. I'm not quiet, for one thing, but that's because I do have the introverted characteristic of, put me in a structured environment where I'm comfortable, like a classroom with a subject I understand, and I'll talk. It's when you put me in an unstructured one where I'm uncomfortable, like a noisy party full of strangers, that I'll mutely drift off into a corner or, more likely, out the door. Cain describes high-octane energy-building pitch sessions, but oddly without describing this introvert's reaction to them, which is total immunity. (I remember Harlan Ellison pitching his I, Robot movie script at Iguanacon, to the utter thrill of the audience, except me; I was standing in the back, thinking, "This movie will never happen," and indeed it did not.)

Cain's is a pop-psych book, including real ideas but treating them casually, that emphasizes that classification is fuzzy and that no one fits perfectly any template. Jennings' is just a tour around various types of wonks, some of which are me (people who can spend all day staring at maps), some of which are sort of me (competitive country-collectors, except that I only collect counties - countries are too expensive, time-consuming, and the necessary travel too uncomfortable - and I'm not competitive about it), and some of which are emphatically not me (geocachers).

Jennings has a chapter on fantasy world maps, in which he discusses Austin Tappan Wright (a name too little remembered), Tolkien (with a fair sprinkling of insignificant factual errors), and Brandon Sanderson, who was - dear god - Jennings' college roommate.

The two books have one other thing in common: they're both written like verbal descriptions of tv news specials. After short salvos of straight-to-camera simplified exposition, we are taken, in a burst of "you are there" enthusiasm, to an expert or exemplar who can illustrate the point. The person is described: their person, their character, their office or home or lab. They give extended soundbite quotes. And we're off to the next point.

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