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Pamuk: prophet or poseur? by

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

This is a review of a book review.

Apparently Orphan Pamuk is cleaning out his closets and has swept the oddments into a new book: Other Colors.

Just in case his name doesn’t ring any bells, he’s a Turkish writer who won the Nobel for literature in 2006. (I was a bit miffed, as I could make a list of people I think deserve it more.) I read Snow and thought it was passable. I came across a review of his new book by chance and was skimming through the beginning, which listed his creds when I bumped into this:

Pamuk is a talented writer, but no one in his right mind believes this was an award based on literary merit.

Ooow. Now she’s caught my interest. A lot of book reviewers tirelessly swoon about many an emperor’s tattered or non-existent garments. It frequently feels like a cosy, elite club. Everyone knows a certain author is brilliant and so everyone praises and grovels and they are obviously floating in the same ethereal circles since they’re brilliant enough to appreciate such talent.

And even holier, is when all this is done for political reasons. Sometimes a… not a hero exactly, but a face, a representative for a certain idea or movement is needed. (Sadly, many truly heroic people are overlooked — I can’t help but think of Hrant Dink: obit and excerpts from his last article.)

So openly criticizing the writings of the symbol of intellectual freedom in Turkey is not something most are prepared to do.

Enter Claire Berlinski:

The collection has been received with rapture by many critics, who celebrate this offering as a unique window into Pamuk’s interior life. Indeed, it is precisely that. Unfortunately, it seems that Pamuk’s interior life is largely that of a lugubrious poseur.

Now here is someone not afraid to have their own opinion.

For page upon page, Pamuk stresses in these self-enamoured tones that he is a man who really likes to read books. Good ones, too, by famous writers like Dostoyevsky and Borges - not, you know, easy ones. He’s different from other Turks, you see. But he’s not like the Europeans, either. He’s an outsider, eternally apart, rejected by all, accepted by no one (the Nobel committee aside). Life hurts. A seagull croaks.

Oh, I almost peed myself at that last line.

“Time passes,” Pamuk scribbles in his notebook. “There’s nothing. It’s already nighttime. Doom and defeat. … I am hopelessly miserable. … I could find nothing in these books that remotely resembled my mounting misery.” I suppose sentiments like these are not uniquely Turkish; teenagers around the world fill their diaries with this kind of drivel. But usually they read those diaries when they grow up, cringe, then throw them out along with their old Morrissey albums.

But the rest of the book is the kind of thing you can only publish if you have won a Nobel Prize and feel entirely confident that no matter what you say, everyone will buy it and the critics will be too afraid to point out the obvious: Sometimes it is best to keep your interior life to yourself.

Read the witty and well-written article here on her website. I plan to check out her new book. And don’t miss the gorgeous photo slideshow of the stray cats of Istambul (her partner is a photo journalist).

So, thanks to a delightful and thoughtful review, I’ve discovered a new author. A good day.

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He meant no slight against her…

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Sometimes the joke is all in the title, but this one is worth reading all the way through.

“Bush Regales Dinner Guests With Impromptu Oratory On Virgil’s Minor Works”

Brilliant. I can’t stop laughing. (And oh, do we need a laugh when it comes to Bush.)

Yet, it does make you all misty-eyed and nostalgic for the days when the president of the US invited Carlos Fuentes and Garcia Marquez for dinner. (Nostalgic for the literary dinners, not the politics.)

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“…seemingly of his own free will.”

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

I recently did a post on the Ursula K. Le Guin article on the “decline of reading”. Well, here’s a hilarious follow up to that:

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

GREENWOOD, IN - Sitting in a quiet downtown diner, local hospital administrator Philip Meyer looks as normal and well-adjusted as can be. Yet, there’s more to this 27-year-old than first meets the eye: Meyer has recently finished reading a book.

[ go to full article here ]

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The Onion

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Here’s an interesting article that talks about why The Onion is a much needed newspaper.

One of my favorite things about it (other than the fact that it can be funny as hell) is that it’s usually more true than most real news sources. “Despite its ‘fake news’ purview, itís an extremely honest publication” as the above mentioned article says. Everyone is so almighty terrified of offending that serious events are watered down, glossed over and neutralized or just not mentioned, while celebrities are hyped into the stratosphere. Offhand, I can only think of the name of one honest, knowledgeable and unafraid-to-pull-punches newspaper reporter: Robert Fisk. That’s crazy.

It’s not easy writing edgy humor. And when nothing is sacred, I think eventually pretty much everyone who feels strongly about something is going to be offended sooner or later. But that’s okay. What I do have a problem with are the undercurrents of misogyny. My theory is that whenever the right is in power, misogyny comes back. It certainly seems scattered about everywhere in a way that it wasn’t ten years ago. The strange thing is that it’s across the board politically: left and right.

And The Onion does seem to get a little too “college frat boy” in its humour sometimes. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of insight into the human condition there too.

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