Andrew Watts

Too, too shy-making

Joe Moran’s Shrinking Violets is packed with ironies about reticence

You might have thought that the last thing shy people need is a book about shyness: a large part of what makes us shy is our self-preoccupation and awareness of our own shyness. No social situation is more embarrassing — too, too shy-making — than someone pointing out we are shy: as if we didn’t know, as if that would help, as if, somehow, an increased consciousness of our self-consciousness would make us less self-conscious. Moreover, being away from home, I had to read this book in public — I removed the dust cover, of course, so no one could see what I was reading or be tempted to ask a question — in a succession of coffee shops. (I had to leave the first one when a stranger sat at an adjacent seat at the same table.) So far, so ideal reader: save for the fact that, having finished the book, I went to work, performing stand-up comedy to 300 people in a nightclub.

In fact, this sort of paradox is at the heart of Joe Moran’s A Field Guide to Shyness. If shyness were merely cowardice or passivity, there would have been no need for a book (a couple of lines about mute inglorious Miltons would pretty much cover it); and we would not have heard of any of the shy personalities whom he portrays in a series of lively portraits. We might have shy people who inherited vast wealth, and could indulge themselves like the fifth Duke of Portland, who had 600 Irish navvies build a 15-mile maze of tunnels under his house so he never had to meet another soul, and is possibly the least interesting person in the book. (Shyness is all very well, but there’s no need to be a show-off about it.) But we would not have L.S.

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