I never got around to reviewing Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye (2010), which was one of the books I read while finishing my thesis – chosen because it was so far from the books I was writing about. I still loved them, but I needed to balance things out with something different. I wrote about Sacks in this article, but not this book in particular – and I especially wanted to write about the final chapter, because it struck a chord with me.
That is a painting I did for my parents’ Christmas present – of our house – partly because I thought you might like this glimpse into the Christmas festivities of the Thomas family, partly to include a picture in this post, and partly as evidence that I am rather a visual person. I am a thousand times happier in an art gallery than at a concert; I can think of nothing nicer than looking at the beauties of nature, and I am overcome with appreciation when looking at views in the Lake District or a beautiful old house etc. etc.
And yet, I have never in my life visualised characters in a book.
You know how some readers watch a film and complain that the people cast didn’t match their mental images? Not me. I mentally carry characters through a book as bundles of emotions, thoughts, responses, likes, dislikes, characteristics – but I will have no idea what sort of nose they have, or if their hair is straight or wavy, or anything like that. Even if the author has told us what they look like, I’ll probably have ignored it. And I have to skim past any passage which describes what a place looks like, because it means nothing to me. Similarly anything with spatial descriptions – if a passage talks about someone entering from the right, walking behind a sofa with a bookcase to the left, etc. etc., I have to concentrate incredibly hard for it to compute. And it’s not worth it!
I would understand this, if I wasn’t bothered by aesthetics. But they mean so much to me. It’s curious.
And then I read Oliver Sacks, and he is the same! It was so nice to read someone so knowledgeable and eloquent who had his brain wired the same way. (You see, he was so informative that I’ve learnt the terminology… ahem.) You see, I don’t say ‘problem’, because I don’t think this impairs my reading at all – I certainly don’t miss it when I’m reading, and it’s not as though I hate books – but it does mean I can’t read most travel literature, as that is almost invariably scenery-description-based.
As usual, I’d love you to weigh in – anyone else there like me, who loves scenery and art and aesthetics, but can’t meaningfully interpret a description of something visual? Or do you always ‘see’ characters when you read about them? I don’t think any of these things are better or worse – heck, we all love reading, don’t we? – but it’s interesting to see (ahem) the different types of readers we all are.