Books·How I Wrote It

Why Ziya Tong wants readers to open their minds and enter The Reality Bubble

The science journalist, author and Canada Reads 2019 winning panellist discusses writing a nonfiction book about how we see the world around us.
The Reality Bubble is a nonfiction book by Ziya Tong. (Penguin Random House Canada, CBC)

Science journalist and broadcaster Ziya Tong is passionate about wanting society to be more mindful of the world around us. Her first book, The Reality Bubble, weaves a narrative that looks into 10 of humanity's biggest blind spots, including where our food and energy comes from and where our waste goes.

Tong was the anchor of the Discovery Channel's science program Daily Planet. She recently defended By Chance Alone by Max Eisen on Canada Reads 2019.

Tong spoke with CBC Books about how she wrote The Reality Bubble.

The world we can't see

"The Reality Bubble is about how we as human beings have a warped perception of reality. The book uses a scientific lens to look at the way we see things in the world around us. But it also shows us what we can't see with the naked eye. Ultimately I wanted to reveal the system that we live in.

"The analogy is this idea of a bubble. We're all used to the idea of the stock market bubble, the tech bubble and the real estate bubble. It's the same idea. You feel safe in a bubble, but at the same time it can be very dangerous to be in one.

"You can compare the book to the 1999 film The Matrix, where the Keanu Reeves character, Neo, lived in this world where there was this whole other world that surrounded and controlled him. I'm basically saying that does exist — and you can learn to see it with science. There is a system, it is very real. Just, for most of us, it's invisible."

Thinking process

"The greatest challenge was synthesizing all my research, findings and observations. Let's say if I was writing a book about cheese, I could write up all the different cheeses in the world or look up the specific science of cheese. But in this instance, I was trying to amalgamate a lot of knowledge from a lot of different fields and then synthesize it in a way that made sense.

"I tried so many different things. I tried sitting down on the floor with Post-it notes, arranging things and trying different methods of thinking. But I also found that just taking a shower or going to sleep on an idea worked the best.

"Very often, I would go to sleep on a problem of trying to weave something together in a narrative or figure out how something connected to something else. I would sleep on it and trust that it was going to figure itself out by trusting and relying on my synaptic neurons."

20 years in the making

"A lot of the questions that I address in the book have been swimming in my mind for as long as 20 years now.

"It took three years for me to write the book proposal, which took longer than actually writing the book itself! This book actually took just over a year to write.

"I wrote most of it while I was working at Daily Planet. I wrote most of it during the winter and I actually wrote a lot of the book while in bed — I would wake up during the work week and just start writing from seven to 10am.

"I had about a year to write the book. That meant, as the book was going to have 11 chapters, I had to write a chapter a month. I broke it down into one week of power reading, where I would be reading and devouring as much as I could. The other three weeks of the month would be dedicated to writing."

Hope for the world

"Ultimately, this book is about having at least one epiphany. I hope that people become wide-eyed and curious to see the world in a brand new way. The book starts off with a quote by Carl Sagan that notes our species needs and deserves a citizenry with eyes and minds wide awake, and a fundamental understanding of the way the world works.

"I feel we don't have that in today's society. If we don't even have that, how are we expecting these monumental changes in our world to take place? We must have our eyes open wide first."

Ziya Tong's comments have been edited for length and clarity.