What We See When We Read

What We See When We Read

A Phenomenology, With Illustrations

Book - 2014
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A San Francisco Chronicle and Kirkus Best Book of the Year

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.

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 considers 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.
Publisher: New York :, Vintage Books,, 2014.
Edition: First Vintage Books edition.
ISBN: 9780804171632
Characteristics: xix, 419 pages : illustrations, maps, music


From the critics

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Jun 06, 2017

As a few other readers noted, this is very dense content. But it's presented user clever, light-hearted illustrations, allowing Mendelsund to deliver some really complex ideas in a readable little package. I didn't understand everything, but can re-visit and enjoy this book in the future. The chapter on the visceral and primal "memory" of scent was especially fascinating. LOOOOOVED this book. What else has Mendelsund written, because I want to read it!

AL_HANNAHS Feb 15, 2017

What a gem. I happened upon this book on the bottom shelf at the library and couldn't resist. It has broadened my horizons about what the experience of reading really is. Filled with visual representations, references to classic literature, wit and razor-sharp intelligence, this is a must read for any and all book lovers. It will change the way you see when you read. Enjoy!

Nov 15, 2016

Amazing! I honestly did not understand it all -- may read it again in a year... In the meantime I am more persuaded than ever that reality is a mystery!

KateHillier Mar 24, 2015

Can you tell me exactly what a character in a book looks like? Will that match what I think they look like? What if the character isn't really described at all? Or just one part, like the eyes or something? Book cover designer Peter Mendelsund takes on these questions in this quick but dense read. There isn't really a definitive answer about what we see when we read (everything and nothing by my estimate) but reading, and watching in a way since this book is highly visual as well, about this whole question is quite fascinating. It seems like a very obvious question but I bet you haven't thought about it too hard. Definitely worth a read.

RDPL_AdultNonFiction Dec 30, 2014

Applying his skills in art and design, Peter Mendelsund illustrates his musings on what it is to read and to be a reader. This is a book to be experienced.

melwyk Dec 28, 2014

A brilliant read from a very clever author; his expertise in book design feeds this study of visual perception in the brain as we are reading. Intriguing and thought-provoking -- best read bit by bit with time to absorb each section one by one (also best read in book form; ebook doesn't quite do it)

eferry Oct 30, 2014

Mendelsund brings up so many ideas that we rarely consider- when did you last try to picture your favorite character?

As a book designer, he has a grasp on the way we experience books that few understand. Want to know more? Check it out!

KCLSRecommends Oct 20, 2014

Amazing small but dense book on what really happens when we look at these strange things called words on pages of books -- truly 'meta'!

Aug 14, 2014

To sum it up in a nutshell, this book discusses what happens in our brains when we read. It is highly graphic which makes it a super quick read but it has some of the most interesting insights. You'll have a whole new respect for the power of your brain.

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