Shy in person, bold on the page

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November 14, 2013

Shy: An Anthology

Edited by Naomi K. Lewis & Rona Altrows

The University of Alberta Press

171 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by Senica Maltese

Shy, An Anthology battles the stigmas and assumptions that surround what it means to be shy with a collection of poems and personal essays. As someone who has always self-identified as shy, regardless of my peers’ boisterous disagreements, I approached this anthology with a combination of weariness and curiosity. I found the foreword, which described, with great spirit, the crippling effects of shyness and social anxiety, nerve-wracking. It did not seem true to my experience, and I became worried that this anthology, though full to the brim with good intention, would dramatize shyness, making it feel less real, less important. I was afraid that shyness would become a caricature.

Luckily, by the end of the book, this fear was assuaged. I found the personal essays particularly interesting and engaging. Some of the contributors recounted childhood experiences much like mine.  For instance, Naomi K. Lewis describes French Immersion in her contribution, “Say Water.” Primarily, the essays recounted childhood experiences, though some did discuss shyness in adulthood. For this reason, I couldn’t help but think that these stories would make powerful guest lectures at elementary or high schools. As someone who has already worked through the shyness of childhood, these stories did not carry as much weight for me as they might for someone in the midst of these feelings.

I appreciated  those essays that focused on shyness in early adulthood, and even late adulthood. I particularly enjoyed Jeff Miller’s “Common Loon,” which recounts his experiences with shyness in a foreign country after a disastrous break up. Debbie Bateman’s “Amongst the Unseen and Unheard” reminded me that the “most damaging part of shyness isn’t the embarrassment,” but rather “the missed moments” and all the meaningful connections that we fail to make due to our own fears.

As for the poetry, I really enjoyed Lorna Crozier’s contribution, “Watching My Lover,” which is indescribably beautiful, and Kerry Ryan’s “How to be shy,” which has a refreshingly comedic take on shyness. The first segment of Ryan’s poem, entitled “How to be shy: the hug,” is especially funny, but also reflects how I and other shy individuals feel when confronted with random acts of physical closeness.

Even though Shy had its ups and downs, as with any anthology, I found it to be a  worthwhile read that I would recommend to anyone who has felt some sort of philosophical compulsion to understand her or his own shyness. In many ways, Shy is a compilation of coming of age stories centred on bashful, artistic individuals. And I am thankful to them for sharing their experiences.

Senica Maltese is a BA student focusing on Honours English and Writing.

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