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Shy: An Anthology

by Naomi K. Lewis and Rona Altrows, eds.

One would think that, much like the population at large, writers’ personalities range from the loud, bold, and raucous bravado of Hemingway or Dorothy Parker to the undiagnosed agoraphobia of Emily Dickinson, with most falling somewhere in the middle. But to read Shy: An Anthology, one gets the impression that, within the bookish tribe, there is a much greater propensity for reticence, and a tendency toward introversion. (Granted, most writers, when they’re feeling particularly confessional, will tell you about the cold, sweaty, dizzy nausea brought on by a reading or book signing.) Perhaps since they bare so much of themselves on the page, shyness is an occupational hazard, a necessary mechanism for self-preservation.

The intimacy and honesty with which shyness, introversion, and attendant phobias, each different and debilitating, are revealed in Shy demonstrates unexpected bravery. Many – perhaps too many – of the entries harken back to the writer’s school days, marked by classrooms and locker rooms filled with the potential for humiliation and shame. But what’s particularly interesting is that, even though this collection of essays and poems is limited to a single personality trait, it is far from homogenous. And, like most anthologies, while the quality isn’t totally even, there are some gems.

Outstanding contributions include Elizabeth Haynes’s “On Shyness and Stuttering” and Sylvia Stopforth’s “Creepmouse Manifesto,” which defends the shy against “angry extroverts” (readers will cheer Stopforth’s conclusion, her refusal to be “fixed”). There’s the knee-knocking fear inherent in Elizabeth Woo’s simple and lovely “I Couldn’t Reveal,” and the self-deprecating wit in Dhana Musil’s “Under the I.” Kerry Ryan’s “How to be shy” explores the difficulties posed by hugs, introductions, and parties, and there is dark humour in Janis Butler Holm’s “Are You an Introvert? Take This Simple Quiz.”

Shy readers will find kindred spirits and inspiration in the airing of emotions and attitudes normally kept locked inside. Less shy readers may come to better understand the occasionally incapacitating dread that is often mistaken for aloofness.