Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sushma Subramanian's "How to Feel"

Sushma Subramanian is a science and health journalist whose writing has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic, Elle, Scientific American, Discover and many others. Her radio work has aired on WBEZ and CBC. She has twice been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and was the winner of a Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award. She has received research support from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and the Genetics and Behavior Journalism Fellowships. Subramanian teaches journalism as an assistant professor at the University of Mary Washington and advises the student newspaper.

She and her husband are also award-winning Peep dioramists.

Subramanian applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss attachment theory. This is a psychological concept that many readers probably already know about. To put it as plainly as possible, the relationship that you have with your parents defines the relationships you have with others over the course of your life. I apply it, additionally, to the way we use touch. Some people might describe themselves as extremely affectionate, and others might say they're more standoffish. Part of that is due to whatever their personal, inborn setpoint is for touch. But early interactions with others also build on that innate characteristic. So for instance, you might be someone who was actually born with a deep need to connect physically with others, but your parents maybe weren't that way. So you learned to suppress over time what you actually need. As an adult, you might say you're touch averse, but there's a lot to unpack under that.

This section is quite personal to me because I am someone who once considered myself to be touch-averse, but I really started to question that assumption as I did my reporting. Does this particular page give a good or poor idea of the entire work, though? Umm yes and no! It's an important thread to the book, to be sure. But I don't want to give the impression that it's a work of psychology or memoir. I try not to write about myself too much, except where it's most necessary, and the book covers a range of scientific fields. I think a lot of what I observe about touch in that section, however, mirrors the way people think about it in other fields ranging from biology to haptic engineering. It's a highly emotional sense, of course.

The book is a mix of hard and soft science, which is why I liked touch so much as a subject. You can write about it in a highly scientific way and also a more poetic and lyrical way. It's impossible to disentangle the sense of physical touch from our feelings, in other words. So this section is just heavier on the feelings end of things.
Visit Sushma Subramanian's website.

--Marshal Zeringue