Why Reading Makes You Self-Confident

May writers are introverts -- and so are their protagonists.

Posted Jul 01, 2011

One of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was being born into a family that elevated reading to a religious activity. The weekly trip to the library was a form of Sabbath observance in our house. Then there was the yearly pilgrimage to London, which we visited with an empty suitcase reserved for gorgeously written children's books unavailable in the U.S. I remember the names of the bookstores we loved: Hatchards, Foyles, Blackwells -- they were like temples to us.

This was great luck for the obvious reasons: reading is fun, reading is illuminating. Reading fiction even makes people more empathic, according to research I wrote about here.

But lately I've been thinking that there's another reason I was blessed to land in a family of book-lovers: self-esteem. Many writers of children's books are introverts, or sensitive, or both -- and so are their protagonists. My children's books were filled with quiet, intellectual types, and they were usually endowed with magical, artistic, or observatory powers.

A classic example is A Wrinkle in Time, whose protagonist Meg Murray is self-conscious, cerebral, and amazed by her younger brothers' easy popularity. Children naturally esteem central characters, so I was in the fortunate position of respecting someone who was very much like me. But it wasn't as if I thought: here is an admirable fictional person who, like me, is out of the mainstream. Characters like Meg were the mainstream in my books, so I assumed I was too. It took me years to understand that this was incorrect, and by then it was too late -- my self-esteem was (more or less) in place.

Books, especially children's books, are one of the few media to portray introverts as intellectually and emotionally aflame, as opposed to aloof, flawed, or dull. This is especially important for children, who seem to read only for plot but are actually forming their view of the world -- and of their places in it.

I think this is true of grown-up books too, even non-fiction. Books require readers to be slow and contemplative as opposed to fast and active. They are not for the frenetic of heart. The same goes for writers -- plenty of my author friends are extroverts, but many more are not, and even the extroverts have to slow down and think carefully if they want to generate 100,ooo+ coherent words.

What do you think of this theory? I wonder if gaming plays this role for some kids today. Also curious which books meant a lot to you as children and who their protagonists were.

If you like this blog, you might like to pre-order my forthcoming book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

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For earlier posts on the Power of Introverts, please visit my website here.

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