In my last post, I reflected on how C.S. Lewis’ idea for a perfect day would be the perfect day for an introvert: a day full of reading and writing and little to no interactions with other people. This made me realize that most people who are drawn to literature are introverts. In fact, all five of the English professors at Northwestern are introverts at different levels. I asked each of them what they thought about themselves as introverts, and what drew them to literature. Here is some of what they said:
Dr. Michael Kensak (Professor of English and German; Department Co-Chair)
Dr. Kensak talked about how unlike extroverts, he is not refueled by being around people. What refuels him is the world of ideas. He said, “What charges my battery is meeting many people through the world of imagination and travel.” Through literature, he is able to have a “world-wide network of people.” He is able to understand more about the world and the people in it through reading and this refuels him.
Along with that, Dr. Kensak believes that introverts have the gift of sustained concentration. He is drawn to literature because he is able to focus on a book for an extended period without getting distracted. Because Dr. Kensak is an introvert, he is drawn to and able to enjoy literature more.
Dr. Ann Lundberg (Professor of English)
Dr. Lundberg explained how reading involves spending time alone, but more than that, it allows time for reflection. Introverts love to spend time reflecting. In reading, you are able to go at your own pace. Dr. Lundberg said that there is “no social pressure to react” with reading. Reading allows you to go slow, take time to process, and respond according to what you really think, not just respond quickly before you think it through because you feel pressured to respond.
Dr. Keith Fynaardt (Professor of English; Humanities Director; First-Year Seminar Coordinator; Department Co-Chair)
Dr. Fynaardt described a book as “a whole world.” He talked about how there are different forms of reality; there’s the “real” world and there’s the world of a book. Introverts may be a little shy of the “real” world, but they are drawn to the “reality that is between two covers.” He even went beyond reading to discuss writing books. He said, “I want to inhabit my own imagination and interact with characters I’ve created.”
Dr. Fynaardt explained that reading is not an escape, but another way to interact with and wrestle with reality.
Dr. Joel Westerholm (Professor of English; Instructor in Music)
Dr. Westerholm said, “Reading a book is safe extroversion” because you are plunged in the middle of social interaction without any risk. He talked about how he could laugh at Mrs. Bennet and her awkward socialness without feeling like that’s him and without having to feel uncomfortable.
He went on to say that he can teach literature as an introvert because while he’s at the front of the classroom, he can spend the entire time pointing at the text and “trying very hard to make sure people aren’t focusing on [him].” He talked about how if he were teaching science or another subject like that, instead of literature, there would be a bunch of data in his head that would have to get in the students’ heads. Then, the attention would have to be on him and they would have to focus more on him.
Dr. Westerholm also said that with literature, there is a sort of “bridge out of introversion.” With books and being a lover of literature, you are able to be part of a community without feeling conspicuous within it.
Dr. Samuel Martin (Associate Professor of English)
Dr. Martin is the least introverted of the English professors, but he does enjoy being alone. He told me, “Because I don’t mind being alone, I’ve always appreciated empty time so I can read…I always liked it when people did leave me alone so I could read.” He talked about how reading was a bonding experience with his grandma. He spent a lot of time with her growing up and she was a reader. They could both be in the same room, reading, and not feel like they needed to be talking all the time. They could talk if they wanted, but they didn’t feel the need to fill silence. This is something that is strange to extroverts. As an introvert, he was able to have these wonderful moments with his grandma, both of them sharing something they love and bonding without speaking.
Introverts are drawn towards literature. It is an activity they can do alone that allows time for reflection and helps them wrestle with the world around them. In my next post, I will suggest books to read with specifically introverted characters.
Are you a literature nerd who’s also an introvert or are you an extrovert book nerd? Or are you neither? What do you think draws introverts to literature? What do you love or not love about literature?