Book Club: Looking With New Eyes

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 12 2014 @ 2:17pm

What have you discovered in your daily routine since reading On Looking, our second Book Club selection? Our host, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, posed that question to Dish readers earlier this week:

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?

Let us know by emailing and we’ll post the most interesting observations and photos. Buy the book here (or here for your Kindle) if you haven’t already. Karen Carlson was looking for “a quick, light, purely fun read” when she picked up the book last summer:

And it was a fun read, very much so – but it also sent me scurrying to google horowitz-onlooking Clochan na bhFomharach, a volcanic formation in Northern Ireland consisting of thousands of columns of basalt pushed out of the ground. And that’s just in a footnote. … “Minerals and Biomass,” her walk with geologist Sidney Horenstein of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is when I got curious about volcanic leftovers in Northern Ireland. …

What surprised me most was how enchanted I was by the second chapter: “Muchness,” guided by the expert eyes of Horowitz’ 19-month-old son. I’m fairly immune to the charms of children, but this was engaging and informative. Horowitz is trained in cognitive science and teaches animal behavior at Barnard, and here she weaves nuggets from developmental psychology in to explain her son’s adoption of a standpipe as a pet, and his reaction to shadows.

She adds, “This book was just the break I wanted: an almanac of captivating anecdotes which will stick with me – and who knows, maybe one day I’ll take a walk, myself.” That’s what we’re hoping some readers will do. And that’s just what Ambre Nicolson, also inspired by “Muchness,” decided to do with her own toddler. An excerpt from their sojourn around Cape Town:

14h00: “Beep beep!”

My son, like Alexandra’s, is head over heels for any form of wheeled transport. Within the first 30m of our journey he has pointed out a red bus, several taxis, a bicycle and a shiny bookclub-beagle-trblack motorbike. Later in our journey he will be stopped, spellbound for almost 10 minutes, by the sight of a reversing garbage truck. While my son loves cars, it has been shown that spending too much time in one leaves kids without a healthy sense of connection to place. American urban researcher Bruce Appleyard has shown that kids who have a “windshield perspective” are less able to accurately draw a map of where they live, whereas kids who walked or biked could produce accurate and detailed maps of their communities.

15h00: A bench, a well and a pond

He stops only long enough to take off his shoes before continuing into the gardens to try and climb a tree, throw sticks into the pond, scale a bench and scurry under it in search of another squirrel. When I see he’s trying to climb onto the edge of the old well, the bottom of which is a long way down and strewn with evil smelling rubbish I am quick to intervene.

At the same time I remember a recent Atlantic article written by Hanna Rosin, “The Overprotected Kid”, in which she shows how harmful it is for children never to exercise their risk taking skills. I decide the least I can do is show him the hazard. He stares into the darkness of the well for a couple of seconds before solemnly throwing his stick into the depths. Not long after that his pace starts to slow, followed by him halting, mid-stride, and reaching both arms up to me. Universal toddler code for “This walk is now finished.”

Kim West, a teacher, also related to On Looking:

Everyday, when my dog and I go for a walk, we travel the same route. Because I already know the way, sometimes I’m impatient, mostly because I’m bored. After reading Horowitz’s book, I have learned to enjoy our walks by slowing down, and pausing in the ordinary. When caught up in the frame of mind of going from one destination to another (home to the park, then back home again) it was easy for me to forget that for my dog, every walk is an adventure with different smells along the way.orwell-2

It made me realize that as a content expert, and a teacher with many years of experience, sometimes my lessons are just like my walks. I forget that because I already know the way, for my students learning can still be a new adventure. This reminds me to find the joy in the ordinary experience of learning: what did I first think and feel when I was introduced to this topic? Why does that matter? How can I make the experience that I once had as fulfilling and exhilarating for my students?

Now, when creating my road map, I don’t just think about the content. I think about what my students and I do and why that matters.

The book also inspired Belinda Farrell to slow down and open her eyes:

The specifics of the walks aren’t really important, but what this book made me think about was the quality of my own walking. Often I walk with a purpose: I am going somewhere. I walk up hills because I want the sense of achievement from reaching the top coupled with the reward of an amazing view. I walk to exercise, swiftly and with little care about where I’m going. I walk with earphones in my ear, listening to my own soundtrack and not the soundtrack of the world outside. Reading this book made me think of the pleasure of walking for the sake of walking, for the pleasure of the walk itself. I’d forgotten how much that could be a voyage of discovery.

Follow the whole Book Club discussion here.