WHAT WE SEE WHEN WE READ

Mendelsund amply attains his goal to produce a quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of...

An artist investigates how we make meaning from words on a page.

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. “Words are effective not because of what they carry in them,” writes the author, “but for their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experience of the reader. Words ‘contain’ meanings, but, more important, words potentiate meaning….” Writers “tell us stories, and they also tell us how to read these stories,” he writes. “The author teaches me how to imagine, as well as when to imagine, and how much.” Copiously illustrated with maps, doodles, works of art, plates from illustrated books, cartoons, book jackets, facsimiles of texts, photographs, botanical drawings and a few publicity shots of movie stars, 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. “Authors are curators of experience,” writes Mendelsund. “Yet no matter how pure the data set that authors provide to readers…readers’ brains will continue in their prescribed assignment: to analyze, screen, and sort.” In 19 brief, zesty chapters, the author considers such topics as the relationship of reading to time, skill, visual acuity, fantasy, synesthesia and belief. “The Part & The Whole” presents lucidly the basic concepts of metaphor, with succinct definitions of metonymy and synecdoche. Throughout the book, Mendelsund draws on various writers, from Wittgenstein to Woolf, Tolstoy to Twain, Melville to Calvino, to support his assertion that “Verisimilitude is not only a false idol, but also an unattainable goal. So we reduce. And it is not without reverence that we reduce. This is how we apprehend our world.”

Mendelsund amply attains his goal to produce a quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of reading.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8041-7163-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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