Sensory Overload

Do you smell like a dog?  You certainly do, according to scientist Lawrence Rosenblum in his fascinating study See What I'm Saying, and there's no use denying it.


Rosenblum is not claiming that you personally emit the odor of wet, roadkill-tainted canine fur, but simply that your common human sniffing organ posesses canine acuity.  "Your sensitivity to ethyl mercaptan is so extreme that you could smell it if three drops of the compound were placed into the water of an Olympic-sized swimming pool."       


Of such mind-boggling facts about the human sensory apparatus is Rosenblum's book compounded.  But it offers no mere dry-as-dust recitation of up-to-the-minute research findings.  Rather, the narrative—divided, naturally enough, into five major sections, with a sixth covering "Multisensory Perception"—tells a spell-binding story of how we unconsciously yet complexly navigate our everyday environment through employment of our oft-overlooked senses and their hidden features, and how the brain's surprising plasticity always affords us a variety of avenues to sensing success.  By directly addressing the reader, and by outlining simple yet enlightening experiments we can all perform, Rosenblum seeks to make us more satisfyingly aware of the miraculous capabilities of our human sensory endowment.  And of course, horror being a salutary learning tool, he does not neglect incidents where our senses fail or go awry—deafness, blindness, anosmia.


Emerging from this perfumed, tasty, luminous, melodic, and velvety volume, the reader will certainly find that the biggest exercise has been enjoyed by his or her sense of wonder.





Paul Di Filippo's column The Speculator appears monthly in the Barnes & Noble Review.  He is the author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, Neutrino Drag, and Fuzzy Dice.


July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

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When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.