Sensory Overload

Inspired by a conversation with several friends on twitter, today’s post showcases 5 excellent books that exemplify each one of the five senses.  In a few cases, I’ve taken some artistic liberties, but overall I think each one of these novels does a fantastic job of engaging your senses.  What books have engaged YOUR senses?  I limited myself to fiction books that I’ve read, but I’d be interested in what non-fiction or memoirs you’ve read that do a great job of engaging your senses!

Blindness by Jose Saramago

The title of this book says it all; rather than presenting the reader with sumptuous landscapes and visual fireworks, “Blindness” focuses on the loss of sight and its shattering effects.  A contemporary apocalyptic book written by the late Portuguese Nobel prize-winning author Jose Saramago, “Blindness” follows the social and moral collapse of a society after an unexplained epidemic of blindness strikes its citizens. The novel does an excellent job conveying the struggles of people who have lost both their vision and social order.  The sparse prose and minimal punctuation is very effective at setting the mood for the novel and Saramago does an incredible job at depicting sensory deprivation.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

This haunting book has been a favorite of mine for years. In the slums of eighteenth-century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with the incredible gift of perfect smell. He grows up on the odors of Paris, and becomes an apprentice perfumer, all the while stalking and murdering women in his search for the most beautiful scent. In Grasse, he catches the scent of a young girl whose scent fuels an obsession that drives Grenouille to ever more fantastic and appalling lengths to create a perfect perfume.  The ending is an absolute orgy of the senses and makes getting through the slower parts of the book very much worth it.

Delta of Venus by Anais Nin

I’ll admit, I stole my first copy of Delta of Venus from a library book sale when I was 14, and it, um, changed my world.  I had never known erotica existed and promptly spent the next four years with it hidden between my mattresses, to be pulled out on lonely nights when my crush didn’t call me back.  While some parts may seem a little cheesy today, this collection of short erotica stories certainly spans the depravity rainbow (incest! pedophilia! prostitution!) and they exemplify the sense of touch above all.  I guarantee your skin will feel electric while you read these.

Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy

Disclaimer: I adore this book, and if I had to pick my favorite book of all time, this may be it. It was written by a linguist, about a linguist named Budai, who is flying to a linguistics conference in Helsinki and falls asleep on a plane, only to wake up in a foreign country that he can’t place.  He gets shuffled from the airport to a hotel and spends the rest of the book desperately trying to leave.  He has very little money left and cannot communicate with a single person, despite knowing many languages.  Things go from bad to worse as Budai is kicked out of the hotel and is forced to earn money on the streets to survive, while still holding out hope of finding his way back to the airport.  Eventually the overwhelming claustrophobia of the city begins to wear you down as a reader.  Buildings are constantly being built and torn down, and the city is a dense mass of winding and maze-like streets and alleys.  This book engages almost all of the senses, but especially sound.  There is so much noise and crushing congestion that even as a reader, you begin to recoil.

Belly of Paris by Emile Zola

A classic French novel from the ultimate French author Emile Zola, “Belly of Paris” is a story about Florent Quenu who escapes from Devil’s Island and flees to Paris after being deported from there in 1851.  He returns to a changed city, most notably the new food markets of the grand Les Halles.  To Florent, Les Halles represents a greedy, wasteful and food-obsessed bourgeois society.  Zola exhaustively describes the colorful food markets and the vast amounts of food available to upper class Parisians, and in such painstaking detail that it makes the reader almost nauseous. He uses these lush food markets as the catalyst about the class conflicts and social struggles in Paris in the 1850s and the book actually transcends time and is applicable in many ways to some of the food politics and food excess of today.

2 Responses so far.

  1. TheKate says:

    This is an exponentially more interesting list than I expected when offering a challenge less than six hours ago. You are amazing - in taste, writing, memory, and so on. Thank you!

  2. The movie version of "Perfume" is something I couldn't get all the way through...which can now be placed in the same same category as "Borat." (Bear in mind, I wanted to get through it...I love the idea of the story...)

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