Sacks Appeal: The Mind’s Eye

Today is the launch day for the much anticipated release of a new book by Oliver Sacks, The Mind’s Eye.  I was able to get a copy from our local Barnes & Noble last night, and devoured it for breakfast this morning.  Now it’s time to sit back and savor its contents a bit more.

The majority of the seven chapters in the book are essays by Dr. Sacks that have previously appeared in The New Yorker magazine.  In Optometry, the best known of the seven vignettes is Stereo Sue, a piece that Sacks penned for the June 19, 2006 issue of The New Yorker. There are subtle changes that Sacks has made to the Stereo Sue chapter, largely in the addition of footnotes to the piece, but the substance remains essentially the same. There is a short postscript at the end of the chapter updating Sue’s experiences.

For an individual who has done so much to celebrate the significance of stereo vision, it is a cruel hand of fate that Sacks himself had an experience opposite to Sue’s — the abrupt loss of stereoscopy at around the same time that she gained it.  Diagnosed with ocular melanoma in late 2005, Dr. Sacks chronicles his monocular visual loss and the disruption of binocular vision through journal writing and drawings that he kept through 2009 in the sixth chapter, Persistence of Vision.   The irony of Sue’s gain and Oliver’s loss crossing paths is inescapable in the juxtaposition of these two chapters.

Aside from the sparkling contents of the book, there is something unique about the cover sure to pique the interest of optometric readers.

Chip Kidd is the graphic designer who Oliver uses for all of his book covers, and he has designed covers for many famous authors including John Updike and David Sedaris.  What you’ll notice about this cover, aside from the distortion, is the rearrangement of the print size relative to standard visual acuity charts.  At the left edge of the cover the acuity progesses as follows:

20/200, 20/60, 20/70, 20/20, 20/50, and 20/100

My impression is that Chip and Oliver are intentionally conveying a form of visual confusion and rearrangement, well beyond the influence of visual acuity as it is normally conceived, to be illuminated by the chapters within.  In this instance you really can judge a book by its cover, and both are brilliant.

You can listen to a delightful and penetrating interview of Oliver about The Mind’s Eye on NPR.

– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

6 thoughts on “Sacks Appeal: The Mind’s Eye

  1. Hi Len,
    Thanks , I believe he is speaking and signing in NYC today Will read it as soon as possible, When Optometric Practice is no longer fun(doubt it will ever happen) you should review books for a living although not a large paycheck.. as my son Scott knows , he does it for the Nation Magazine as well as others.

  2. Pingback: Oliver Sacks in Paperback and at AMNH in October « The VisionHelp Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s