Book Review – What We See When We Read

What We See When We ReadWhat We See When We Read: A Phenomenology by Peter Mendelsund

My first thought upon starting this book was “What the heck is a phenomenology?” So I looked it up. Phenomenology (noun): 1. the science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being, 2. an approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience. Armed with the definition, I delved into what I discovered to be an utterly unique and thought-provoking reading enterprise. The book is filled with stark, black-and-white illustrations which provide an extra layer to Mr. Mendelsund’s thesis that, although we feel that we know literary characters or places intimately, we are actually grafting our own experiences and images onto those few details that authors provide. Mr. Mendelsund argues that this visual process is specific to the act of reading and says, “Good books incite us to imagine–to fill in an author’s suggestion.” He claims that without this “co-creative” act, readers are robbed of the freedom to participate in the narrative the way we choose. I highly recommend “What We See When We Read” as a provocative exploration of what we may think of as the simple act of reading.

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