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What We See When We Read (Vintage Original)by Peter Mendelsund
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Wow....Mendelsund has changed the way I think about reading. Like the Wizard of Oz tornado, Mendelsund's lucid, questing prose and his surprising, joyful visuals collide to create a similar weather system inside the reader. Not only are you carried off to Oz, but you're aware at every moment of the cyclonic action of your reader's mind and your reader's imagination. It's so smart, so totally original, so beautiful. This is the perfect gift for anyone who has ever blinked awake inside a book." Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
"This is not a book, this is a sacred text. It inspires, it expands the mind, it proves that Mendelsund is a total freaking genius." Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers
"Amazing....Sparkling with verbal as well as visual wit and the personable exhilaration of one of the best conversations you've ever had, What We See When We Read opens one's eyes to that special brand of blindness which makes the vividness of fiction possible. It reads as if the ghost of Italo Calvino audited Vladimir Nabokov's literature class and wrote his final paper with the help of Alvin Lustig and the Radiolab guys." Chris Ware, author of Building Stories
"In this brilliant amalgam of philosophy, psychology, literary theory and visual art, Knopf associate art director and cover designer Mendelsund inquires about the complex process of reading....The book exemplifies the idea that reading is not a linear process. Even if readers follow consecutive words, they incorporate into reading memories, distractions, predispositions, desires and expectations....In 19 brief, zesty chapters, the author considers such topics as the relationship of reading to time, skill, visual acuity, fantasy, synesthesia and belief....Mendelsund amply attains his goal to produce a quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of reading." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Offhandedly brilliant, witty, and fluent in the works of Tolstoy, Melville, Joyce, and Woolf, Mendelsund guides us through an intricate and enlivening analysis of why literature and reading are essential to our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the spinning world." Booklist
"Brilliant. Peter Mendelsund has peered into our messy heads and produced an illuminating, kaleidoscopic meditation on reading. Also on seeing. And understanding." Jim Gleick, bestselling author of The Information
"This examination of how words on a page become pictures in our brains is blowing my mind a little in the best possible way." BookRiot
About the Author
Peter Mendelsund is the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf and a recovering classical pianist. His designs have been described by The Wall Street Journal as being “the most instantly recognizable and iconic book covers in contemporary fiction.” He lives in New York.
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