On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz - Excerpts

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"Poised half off the bottom step and half onto the sidewalk, my son squatted—a young weight lifter’s pose, or the spring-loading of an infant rocket."

"A protuberant two-headed hydra...a short chain dangled from its belly. My son's new pet was a standpipe."

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"Each step was irregularly concave, worn down by the footfalls of countless visitors ascending, and rounded at their leading corners, from countless descents. This erosion is petrified human activity."

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"The rock was enormous....I could see two children playing on its other side, mere parkas-with-legs as they clambered up and down its shoulders."

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"I saw letters on street signs and commercial signs; on flyers, telephone booths, and lampposts; as building names; on T-shirts and knapsacks with logos, affiliations, and statements of purpose. . . Perhaps I should have challenged Shaw not to see letters."

"Signs and storefronts and billboards and computer screens barrage us with text that we, with our language-besotted minds, cannot help but read."

Chapter Two / M U C H N E S S

Chapter Three / M I N E R A L S   A N D   B I O M A S S


Chapter Four / M I N D I N G   O U R   Qs




Chapter Five / I N T O   T H E   F O U R T H   D I M E N S I O N

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 "Kalman slowly passed a line-up of newspaper bins, considering each one as though they were displayed for sale at a flea market."

"A man’s onion-chopping cadence sounded like it might be a Ping-Pong game, and Kalman’s face brightened at the possibility. A connection between Ping-Pong and onion-chopping was thereby forged in my brain."

Chapter Six / F L I P P I N G   T H I N G S   O V E R


"Some galls are almost picturesque—and adorably named. I could imagine trying to hunt for the fuzzy red 'hedgehog' gall..."

"'I did see a grasshopper munching on the paint on the corner of my house one time.'"

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Chapter Seven / T H E   A N I M A L S   A M O N G   U S


"One raccoon was spotted attempting to tie a bit of straw around his nose."

 "As Hadidian put it, the owl effigies 'provide pigeons with something nice to sit on.'”

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Chapter Eight / A  N I C E   P L A C E   T O   W A L K


 "Unprompted, the male of the couple swung his partner in front of us, dance-like, to pass us single-file."

"One of Whyte’s realizations was that people could feel very comfortable in a fundamentally noisy, public environment, if they just had a nice place to sit."

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Chapter Nine / T H E   S U G G E S T I V E N E S S   O F   T H U M B - N A I L S


 "...on closer inspection, it did appear as though her right side, holding the bag, was frozen in an uncomfortable position. And her left arm swung excessively to and fro, conducting an orchestra at her toes. 'She’s holding on for dear life. A potential patient,' he added."

"He was pacing, his head bent under a sweatshirt hood...his gait was odd....Lorber gently informed me that I had diagnosed a fashion statement."

"What was I revealing with my pupils, my teeth, or the grip of my handshake that I may not know myself?"

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Chapter Ten / S E E I N G ;  N O T   S E E I N G


"The awning Gordon perceived, I realized, was wider on either side than the awning I could see. This “sound” awning projected a good two or three feet more on both left and right: that was where the sound from the cane tap began to change."

"...circling eddies of air appear as air travels around the building's corner, snatching hats off approaching heads."

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Chapter Eleven / T H E   S O U N D   O F   P A R A L L E L   P A R K I N G


  "A boy was throwing a softball with an older man in a mostly empty schoolyard. Water puddled along the corners of a basketball court; a set of bleachers sat unused. I reflexively grabbed the chain-link as though it would help me hear better while I peered through it. Sounds of a school playground: is there anything more evocative of childhood?"

"A moment later, an empty mover’s dolly was rolled by, attempting to catch up with the jumpsuit. It nearly swiped a third man sweeping trash into a plastic dustpan, which folded up with a thwack. Lehrer looked pleased. 'A lot of stuff just happened sonically!'"

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Chapter Twelve / A  D O G ' S - N O S E   V I E W 


"By licking his nose, he was readying it to catch things to be smelled."

"Three minutes later, we were on the stairs to greet a woman I recognized from morning dog walks, leading her charge out for a bit of midday relief....I goggled a bit and tried to explain to her our presence on her stoop, while Finn happily wiggled."

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Sketches by Elisha Cooper. elishacooper.com.

Also available as an audiobook:  Amazon /  Barnes & Noble  /  BAM  /  Powells  /  iTunes  /  Audible 



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Chapter 1 / A M A T E U R   E Y E S:  read an excerpt or listen here:

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