Review of Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

whatweseeBy Amy Reading

“Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” So begins Middlemarch. Your eyes, as you read those seventeen words, seemed to glide over them linearly, your mind to effortlessly flash on the meaning behind each one. Perhaps you began to generate an image of Dorothea Brooke. But now that I’ve called attention to the way you read, you might be experiencing a hiccup in the process. What if I tell you that the average person reads four to five hundred words a minute? Are you now trying to read just a tiny bit faster? What if I say that we don’t read linearly, but that our eyes “saccade” back and forth across a text block, taking in ten to twelve letters at a time?

This “frantic career of the eyes,” as Proust called it, is the subject…

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