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REVIEW: WHAT WE SEE WHEN WE READ by Peter Mendelsund

Wednesday, December 16, 2015




THE BLURB

A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading-how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL.


What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? 


The collection of fragmented images on a page - a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so - and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved - or reviled - literary figures.


In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf's Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature - he thinks of himself first, and foremost, as a reader - into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.



MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK:


A strange, fascinating and totally original book about the relationship between the words on the page and the images seen in the mind’s eye, this is a book to be thought about and re-read again and again. Peter Mendelsund is the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf, and spends his days designing book covers and illustrations. Many of the pages in this book have few or no words on them. Instead, they are full of images – photographs, drawings, pop graphics, and scribbles. In a way, it reminded me of the astonishingly beautiful books created by Brian Selznick, in which his intricate black-and-white drawings replace sentences and scenes. Except that What We See When We Read is not creating a narrative – it is instead a meditation on the relationship between the writer’s and the reader’s imagination, partly informed by scientific investigation, but mostly by a certain type of literary criticism. The book is marred by its literary pretentiousness – lots of references to Tolstoy, Flaubert, Melville, Nabokov, and other dead white males, for example. Virginia Woolf was one of the few female authors to get a mention, and Barthes was quoted quite a few times (something that always sets my alarm bells ringing). However, if you can forgive him for thinking the only writers worth examining are white, male, middle-class and no longer breathing, then the book offers a lot to think about – and some of the passages have their own exquisite and mysterious beauty.



I WOULD LOVE TO GET YOUR FEEDBACK ON THIS BOOK
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