Blink Book Review #2: “Life in Five Senses” by Gretchen Rubin
By Reba Campbell
Is there anything that we take for granted more than the power of our five senses? Gretchen Rubin’s new book, “Life in Five Senses, How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World,” stunned me out of complacency. It reminded me about the riches we overlook daily because we fail to pay full attention to what we are seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and hearing.
Gretchen studies the five senses through the lens of connectivity to the world around us – a simple premise – but likely something most people easily forget to appreciate. By overlaying art, literature, food, science, family and the natural world, Gretchen chronicles her personal sensory exploration. A reader can choose to ride along on her journey or use her journey to plot their own path. I did a little of both.
The author responds to a potentially life-changing medical issue as a jolt to examine the power of her own senses. Her research includes enough scientific data to be credible, but not boring, for a general audience. But a good bit of what she investigates is experiential. She primes her senses by experimenting with a perfume class, a restaurant that serves diners who are wearing blindfolds, and a sensory deprivation chamber, among other experiences.
Part of her personal project to learn more about her senses was setting a goal to visit the same place every day for a year. She chose the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, most people don’t live walking distance from the Met like Gretchen does, but she ties in all five senses to her daily visits. These adventures allow the museum to be not only a place to look at art, but also a place to practice observation and retrain her senses. Through these visits, Gretchen sets up ideas anyone can use in their own exploration of a “daily place.”
While reading this book, I set out on a mundane errand to buy new bathmats. I normally like a very sensible towel-like bathmat with sticky stuff on the back. But when I touched one that felt like soft puppy fur, I had a visceral reaction. I bought it. A small thing, but a perfect example of how paying attention to my senses prompted me to buy something simple (and relatively inexpensive) that gives me a joy jolt every time I walk in the bathroom. This book is full of Gretchen’s practical examples like this that can help readers retrain how they experience the world.
I checked out the book from the library to put in my beach stack. But by the time I’d finished the first chapter, I knew that had been a mistake. I had to own that book (I bought it at Litchfield Books as a shout out to local bookstores). It’s now got turned-down pages and multi-colored highlights throughout marking ideas I want to remember, passages I want to go back and re-read, and suggestions for my own experiments. I’m taking on one of Gretchen’s activities this summer by developing my own Five Senses Self-Portrait. I’ll be adding to it regularly.
In 2022, Reba Campbell set out to get off the screens and back to books for the summer. She set a goal of reading a book a week. Her accountability was writing short Blink Book Reviews (so short you can read them in a blink). John Reba’s Blink Book Review FB group to follow along for the 2023 summer series. Reba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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