Maria Popova, the host of our second Book Club, starts the discussion by posing a challenge to readers:
“Reality,” Philip K. Dick wrote, “is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” There are two reasons I chose Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes for the Dish book club. Besides being a masterwork of storytelling bridging science and everyday life, it also reminds us – subtly, elegantly, yet unequivocally – that what we call “reality” is a highly edited picture of the world, projected through the lens of our beliefs, our biases, our baggage, and our experientially conditioned selective attention. It’s a point especially poignant today as we go through our lives worshiping at the altar of productivity, often at the expense of presence. After all, as Annie Dillard put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And under the modern condition, we spend the overwhelming bulk of them in the trance of our routines, showing up for our daily lives but being, in a rather significant way, absent from them – the very tendency against which Alan Watts admonished half a century ago when he began popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West.
What Horowitz does is peel back precisely those cognitive curtains that obscure from view the richness of our everyday reality. When I first wrote about On Looking last fall, I knew it was the kind of book that stays with you for a lifetime, but this awareness was rooted mostly in intellectual appreciation. I didn’t anticipate just how profoundly those eleven perspectives would change the way I experience and inhabit my day-to-day life, from the parallel-universe ecosystem of wildlife in my tiny backyard to the remarkable invisible choreography of swiftly navigating a crowded New York City sidewalk while a hundred strangers do just the same.
Perhaps the greatest gift of a book club is that we get to share our private realities around a common point of interest – the book – and in the process enrich the collective experience. With that in mind, what is one facet of your day or aspect of your usual daily routine – your apartment, your commute, your dog walk route – that On Looking helped you see with new eyes?
Email your personal observations – and photos when relevant – to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pick the most interesting ones to post. And we’ll be discussing On Looking for up to the whole month of June, so you still have plenty of time to buy the book and join the conversation. Also, if you haven’t already, check out Maria’s inimitable blog, Brain Pickings, and subscribe to it here if you like what you read.