What we see when we read

I’m adding Peter Mendelsund’s book What we see when we read to the small pile of books that I’ll heartily recommend to everyone – it’s a meandering collection of thoughts about what happens during the act of reading. Unlike the title suggests however, the book is not in any way didactic or scientific, instead it overflows with questions and ideas, each illustrated in a way that lets the reader hover over the pages with glee. I’d rather not spoil the fun, since his book is endlessly quotable in every which way, but I do want to share this short extract:

River, the word, contains within it all rivers, which flow like tributaries into it. And this word contains not only all rivers, but more important all my rivers: every accessible experience of ever river I’ve ever seen, swum in, fished, heard, heard about, felt directly or been affected by in any other manner oblique, secondhand or otherwise. These “rivers” are infinitely tessellating rills and affluents that feed fiction’s ability to spur the imagination. I read the word river and, with or without context, I’ll dip beneath its surface. (I’m a child wading in the moil and suck, my feet cut on a river’s rock-bottom; or the gray river just out the window, now, just to my right, over the trees of the park—spackled with ice. Or—the almost seismic eroticism of a memory from my teens—of the shift of a skirt on a girl in spring, on a quai by an arabesque of a river, in a foreign city...)

A longer extract of the book can be found over on the Paris Review.