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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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“…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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moribund (adjective and noun)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

A. adjective - At the point of death; in a dying state.
1886 E. L. Bynner “A tangle of brambles and moribund herbs.”

figurative - On the point of coming to an end.
1837 Carlyle Fr. Rev. “The wail of a moribund world.”

B. noun - A person in a dying state.
1835 C. A. Bowles in Corr. w. Southey (1881) “Another person was mortally wounded and his death hourly expected. Every day the moribund’s door was besieged by crowds of anxious inquirers.”

Oh, how I love words. Not to mention the OED (”The definitive record of the English language” it says on their website. Oooooooooow, how exciting!!! Now you see why I got beat up so much in school.) Don’t miss their Word of the Day available by RSS and e-mail.

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Tolstoy Madness!!!

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Okay, I’m one martini into it, but this is my blog dammit and I can rant about Tolstoy again if I want to!

So he’s popping up everywhere. I’m so thrilled. The world can’t be completely going to hell if Leo is getting this kind of column space.

The New York Times has gone even more mad than me. This is like a fantasy. Here’s a screenshot (of page one of three), just in case it disappears one day and we want to relive it (please tilt your head to the left):

Tolstoy frenzy

I also just discovered this New Yorker article but I am way too overstimulated to read calmly. How can they not give more info on the photo? I know Tolstoy’s wife was big into photography — was this one of hers? It looks like an autochrome… is it? What year?

I was in my local English-language bookshop (one of two! Help! Please send English language books to: …) and saw the British edition of the Pevear and Volokhonsky War and Peace translation in person and fell in love. In the online photo it doesn’t look like much, but in person it’s beautiful: grey cloth, red text… I wanted desperately to buy it, but the only copy they had (?!?) had been in the window and had somehow gotten horribly water damaged.

Cruel, cruel fate…

But I think I’ll order a copy (ISBN-10: 0099512238 / ISBN-13: 978-0099512233). What the hell, it’s gonna be Xmas soon. I’m tired of counting centimes. After all, this isn’t something useless like rent or food — this is a book.

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