What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

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What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund has been getting a lot of buzz around the blogosphere, mainly because hey! A book about reading! We like reading! I was actually super excited when this showed in my the fourth BookRiot Quarterly box.

The premise is a good one – what exactly is happening when we read? When a character or scene is described, how are we picturing it? The authors often given incomplete descriptions, so how are we creating these images in our heads? Are we just filling in the blanks? Are we imagining outlines rather than full-colored characters and objects? How is this mental process different from when we consume TV or comics? I definitely found myself sitting there in between chapters kind of mulling things over, thinking about what my mind is doing when I read, what I notice and imagine.

So why am I rating this kind of low? Because I would’ve enjoyed more science. In all fairness, that’s not really the author’s background. Peter Mendelsund is a book cover designer. But the nerd in me would’ve loved more solid data about the actual mental processes and biological happenings that occur when we read. A lot of this book is Mendelsund’s own musings on things that classical authors have already said about how words form mental images. It seemed like there was an abundance of speculation or curiosity without much actual scientific research or insight. Also, this book is VERY visual. The 400 pages or so fly by because there’s probably just as much imagery as there are words. Sometimes the images and graphics added value to what Mendelsund was saying – sometimes it seemed distracting and just kind of inserted for the hell of it.

No matter what, if you love reading then this is probably a book you’ll want to pick-up. It’s a beautiful ode to the act of reading and devouring language, and would make a fantastic gift for any book-lover. I’m happy to have it on my shelf.

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

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7 comments

  1. I know you dig science-y stuff so it makes total sense that you’d want a bit more of those hard facts. I haven’t dug into this yet but I definitely will be. In fact, I’d forgotten about it. It might have been a good readathon book. Maybe I’ll save it for the April event 😀

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  2. I’m definitely intrigued by this book, but I think I’ll see if the library has it. It sounds similar to a book called ‘This is Your Brain On Music’ but that one definitely sounds more science-based than this one. Still, it would make for an interesting read for a reader!

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