What We See When We Read

Peter Mendelsund. Vintage, $16.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7163-2
Knopf associate art director Mendelsund, praised for creating the "most instantly recognizable and iconic book covers in contemporary fiction," here takes readers on an investigation—heavy on graphics, relatively light on text—into the optical world behind words. With humility, humor, and acuity, the book proposes that, much as a piece of fiction might describe a character or world, we can't ever know for sure what the author actually envisioned–and that's just as well, because the original conception might not be nearly as appealing as our own. Mendelsund depicts reading retention as a process of visual mutation, during which we edit and keep only what holds significance for us, rather than preserving realistic and fixed pictures. Thus, Flaubert changes Madame Bovary's eye color throughout the novel, and Tolstoy does the same to Karenin's ear size—not at random, but in proportion to Anna's dissatisfaction with him. Using such graphic aids as charts, photographs, and paintings, Mendelsund demonstrates why authors regularly leave out details and contradict themselves. Though his central point—that it's fortunate that we cannot see the novel's images like we do a film's—may seem simple in retrospect, readers will exponentially expand upon their understanding of linguistics and imagination through this well-crafted guide. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/2014
Release date: 08/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 262 pages - 978-0-8041-7164-9
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