Shrinking Violets by Joe Moran

shrinking-violetsI’m a little disappointed in this book. It’s full of anecdotes and observations but I don’t feel I’m any further forward in understanding what shyness is.

The vignettes chosen by the author seem to conflate introversion, social anxiety, autism, mental illness, rebellion and plain eccentricity. He says that we can all be shy in different contexts but focuses on ‘shy’ individuals or groups. He touches briefly on cultural aspects of shyness, how in some societies it is seen as positive and in others negative. There’s some passing discussion of the impact of technology (eg it’s easier to ask someone out by text than face-to-face).

Many of his case studies are of middle- and upper-class English men. They are able to take their ‘shyness’ (if that is an adequate term) to extremes because they have the resources to keep the world at bay. In one of the more interesting chapters he discusses whether shy people can and should learn to adapt or whether they should structure their lives to minimise social interaction. But it’s hard to answer this without a working definition of shyness – does the shy person love solitude or is she desperately lonely but somehow unable to connect?

Although he touches on the physical nature of shyness – and particularly blushing – I would have been interested to know more about the physiology of it. What about that elusive ‘chemistry’? Why do we have a visceral reaction – positive or negative – to some people before they’ve even spoken? Some people set us immediately at ease, others leave us on edge or flat and empty. A rare few transform us into more vivid and articulate versions of ourselves. Maybe ‘shyness’ is in part a greater sensitivity to these signals?

I suppose this book lives up to its billing as field guide. There are some detailed descriptions of selected specimens. But I was hoping for a bit more insight and analysis.

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