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Bittersweet by Susan Cain
Narrative nonfiction

Bittersweet

by Susan Cain

Quick take

Ever cried during a commercial or listened to Joni Mitchell curled up on the floor? This insightful book is for you.

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    Inspirational

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    Brainy

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    Academic

Why I love it

A decade ago, when Susan Cain unleashed Quiet into the world, millions of people across the globe found their experiences articulated and validated for the first time. She helped us see that there was both power and beauty in retreating inside ourselves, and she captures a similar duality in Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. Here, she explores the importance of embracing our pain, our longing, and our loss, not just as vital aspects of being human, but also because without them, we dampen the fullness of our joy.

While encouraging us to pay attention to the bittersweet in life—a rainy day, an old photo, a lost love, a life’s mission born from tragedy—she profiles people who have done just that, while also citing research and sharing her own bittersweet experience of her difficult relationship with her mother. Along the way, she treats us to a history of the bittersweet mindset with teachings from philosophers to poets, scientists to songwriters, and caregivers to cartoonists.

This is a book that will make you cry in the best possible way, meaning that you won’t feel happy, but you’ll feel transformed. If you find yourself, as I did, moving toward instead away from the bittersweet in your own life—stopping to appreciate a waning sunset, grieving how soon my teenager will be moving into adulthood—you’ll know that Susan Cain is right: it’s in the bittersweet where we feel most alive.

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Synopsis

With Quiet, Susan Cain urged our society to cultivate space for the undervalued, indispensable introverts among us, thereby revealing an untapped power hidden in plain sight. Now she employs the same mix of research, storytelling, and memoir to explore why we experience sorrow and longing, and the surprising lessons these states of mind teach us about creativity, compassion, leadership, spirituality, mortality, and love.

Bittersweetness is a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy when beholding beauty. It recognizes that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. A song in a minor key, an elegiac poem, or even a touching television commercial all can bring us to this sublime, even holy, state of mind—and, ultimately, to greater kinship with our fellow humans.

But bittersweetness is not, as we tend to think, just a momentary feeling or event. It’s also a way of being, a storied heritage. Our artistic and spiritual traditions—amplified by recent scientific and management research—teach us its power.

Cain shows how a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain. If we don’t acknowledge our own sorrows and longings, she says, we can end up inflicting them on others via abuse, domination, or neglect. But if we realize that all humans know—or will know—loss and suffering, we can turn toward each other. And we can learn to transform our own pain into creativity, transcendence, and connection.

At a time of profound discord and personal anxiety, Bittersweet brings us together in deep and unexpected ways.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of Bittersweet.

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