What Book Changed Your Perception of Reality?
An animated phone call about the love and life of literature.
By Maria Popova
“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her gorgeous reflection on why we read and write. The books most real to us fundamentally alter our relationship with reality — but they do so in ways less tangible than objects and less audible than music. They make us grow in spurts less visible than a plant’s. To communicate these private potentialities to one another is a herculean task, but an immensely rewarding one — a deeply human way of making ourselves less invisible to each other.
In collaboration with my friends at Call Me Ishmael — an unusual and absolutely wonderful celebration of bookishness via anonymous voicemails from readers about the books they love, transcribed on a real typewriter — I recently issued an “all-call challenge” inviting folks to share books that changed their perception of reality (with the caveat that all great books change our understanding of the world, but perception, in the psychological sense, is best defined as “the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment”). Along the way, I answer Ishmael’s questions about my own favorite books, as well as the general method and madness behind Brain Pickings:
The books I mention on the call: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, and The Oldest Living Things in the World by Rachel Sussman. Solnit’s gorgeous sentence, which Ishmael reads in closing, comes from this enchanting piece.
In the spirit of the challenge, I called Ishmael with my own answer — On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (public library) by cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz. I’ve previously written about what makes the book so mind-stretching. For a deeper dive, give my conversation with Horowitz a listen.
You can reach Ishmael at 774.325.0503 if you live within the United States, or Skype in if elsewhere, and leave a voicemail about a book that changed your perception of the world — after all, what greater gift is there than to welcome one another into our private worlds?
Published November 7, 2014