On Looking

“How do you like my new hairstyle?”

“Um…what new hairstyle?”

OK, I’m not the most observant person in the world, to put it mildly. But I’d like to get better. And I’m really interested in cities, and in psychology, and in geometry. So I couldn’t resist On Looking, by psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz. Over a period of a couple of weeks I listened to the audiobook version narrated by the author.

Now that’s an issue in and of itself. Most authors are not trained actors. But this book is a first-person non-fiction narrative in which the author’s voice (literally and figuratively) is in the forefront. So this was one of the rare cases where the author was an appropriate reader. Furthermore, she obviously knew what she wanted to stress, and what her conversational partners sounded like. So, aside from a few mispronunciations (which were presumably caused by trying to pronounce words that she had learned from reading rather than hearing), it was a successful experience.

What we have here is a fascinating description of 11 walks through New York City. In each walk we observe and analyze hundreds of little details through the eyes of different viewers accompanying the author — an archaeologist, a 2-year-old child, a dog, a sociologist, a physical therapist, a geologist, an architect, a sound engineer, an entomologist, and even a blind woman. That’s probably not the complete list (a failing of audiobooks), but it’s pretty close. Amusing and captivating the whole way through, it opened my eyes. Read it (or listen to it); maybe it will open yours. Even if you’re already observant.

Categories: Books