Introverts have been receiving a lot of attention (ironic, no?) since Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking came out in 2012. It was kind of a thing. In fact, it was a ‘revolution’.* My internet world suddenly became filled with everything from “The Introvert’s Guide to Shoe Shopping” to “Outhouse Designs for Introverts.”
Just kidding. Kind of…
After reading the book, I so desperately wanted to identify with all these quiet people who subtly go about changing the world in their demure and ever-so-cool ways. Realistically, my immediate qualities read straight up extrovert, (ha! fooled you all) but like most people, I fall on both sides of the divide. I can enjoy a full house for a couple of hours (or a couple of martinis, whichever comes first) and then I get a tad hyperventilate-y.
So the holidays are a thing.
Through many years of adult Christmases, with both my family and others’, I have developed coping mechanisms for the inevitable low-to-medium grade social anxiety. Wine is phenomenally effective, but it comes with some gnarly consequences (indeed, metaphysical hangovers are far worse during the holidays…) Deflecting attention with questions is a classic, and better for overall health. One of my preferred strategies is to maintain a perpetual slice of pie in my hand. What am I going to do with my PhD? Nom nom nom nom nom…
But I have found that my favorite stop-drop-and-chill method is reading. In childhood, I often found books waiting under the family Christmas tree. One year, I received the Lord of the Rings trilogy and my family didn’t see me for the next five days. (Oh the calm of those epic battles amid the storm of my relatives…) So I’ve always associated the holidays with endless hours of reading, which gets harder to pull off the older you get.
But I still find ways of keeping up my favorite (entirely selfish) tradition. Here’s the thing, you can’t get away with pulling out a novel in the middle of Christmas dinner (unless you’re a cute kid, in which case, have fun doing whatever the heck you want at Christmas…we’ll just be over here abiding by the laws of social decency…) but it is possible to check out every once in a while and regain your personal (mental) space by getting lost in some quality words.
Making conversation with people – it’s great. But sadly, chat tends to unravel the cozy sweater that serves as protective membrane between me and the world. Words knit it back up. Running my eyes over a piece of text and processing its meaning pulls everything back together for me almost immediately. (I think people who meditate would call this “centering”…)
So if you also could use some inner peace in the midst of outer chaos, here are my recommendations for getting your literary relaxation over the holidays…
Duck out. But not forever.
Don’t disappear for the entire day. Take a half hour. If grandma can peace out for a nap, you’re allowed to curl up in a corner with your book.
Get as far outside your life as possible.
For goodness sake, if you have beef with your family, don’t read The Great American Novel About Having Beef With Family. By which I mean, don’t read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. The idea is to get outside your family situation if you find it stressful. Steer clear of realistic fiction altogether. Go with dragons and fairies. Spaceships. Pirates. Cowboys.
And keep it light, dude.
This is emotional survival. If it’s on a university syllabus, put it back on the shelf.
Don’t feel like keeping track of time? Cool. Let yourself hang out in grandpa’s study for the length of a chapter or a short story. We’ve had a copy of Dave Eggers’s How We Are Hungry lying around and it has seen a lot of action this holiday season. Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You is another good option. (Though you’ll have to hide it. Grandma will be drawn to the bright yellow cover and that book has way too much sex for her.) Or hey, extra points for reading to the nieces and nephews, go with A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. They are fantastic.
Funny poetry. Poetry you don’t have to think about too hard. One of my best New Years Eves was spent in part reading Ogden Nash on the outskirts of a crowded dance floor.
Everyone sitting around the living room talking about people you don’t even know? No one is going to fault you for half-heartedly thumbing through a magazine and chiming in with a very attentive “Mm hmm” or “Oh really?” every once in a while. Hey, they don’t have to know you are in fact so engrossed in David Denby’s New Yorker article that you have no idea what anyone is talking about.
And relatedly, your phone
I despise reading on my phone, but we’re so attached to the damn things that no one will notice if they catch you starring intently at it for long periods of time. Let’s say one of your aunts or uncles discovers you curled up in a chair away from the crowd. What object is more likely to register as “I am avoiding the family” – a small screen often used to communicate? Or a gigantic hardcover? That’s what I thought. Everyone will most likely think that you are texting warm holiday wishes to the world, whereas you are actually off in Italy with Elena.
Look, one day it will be socially acceptable to just disappear for an hour or so when the bright lights and overeating and laughter and screaming children overwhelm, as they are bound to do. But until then, you can seek temporary refuge in your library.
Happy Holidays everyone! And happy reading.
*PS – It’s really important you know this. “The Quiet Revolution” was an extremely significant moment in the history of Quebec. It’s cute that Cain is using that name for her own attempt to focus the world’s attention on introverts, but I have to express my dismay that the phrase was simply commandeered without question. Okay, phew, I’m so glad I got that off my chest. Thanks for listening.