Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What We See When We Read, by Peter Mendelsund

Peter Mendelsund is a book designer/art director who has used his visual approach to address the question of what and how readers visualize what they are reading about and how that process affects the meaning they ascribe to what they read; eventually, he extends the analysis to include how people "read" reality. Mendelsund draws examples from literature of various vintages and approaches the focus question from a variety of perspectives.  The book is lavishly illustrated with black-and-white drawings, charts, photographs, and manipulations of type.

Unfortunately, I found the book to be a novelty, but one that's a bit of a jumble and lacks penetrating insights. Examples: "A novel invites our interpretive skills, but it also invites our minds to wander." "Words are like arrows--they are something, and they also point toward something." ". . . no matter how pure the data set that authors provide to readers--no matter how diligently prefiltered and tightly reconstructed--readers' brains will continue in their prescribed assignment: to analyze, screen, and sort." Not exactly earth-shattering statements and all too typical of What We See When We Read. Perhaps a more visual person would find the book design and illustrations, which are certainly creative, inspirational, but with a few exceptions, they also failed to move me.

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