Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Speed Dating #2 - The Pile

Back in April, I made a pile of most of the first page of my to-read list, and worked through until I had tasted each one. From there I decided whether or not to keep reading, to put on hold but to read later, or to discard. I was able to weed out a few, and ended up finishing three completely. The mightiest tome on the list, Infinite Jest, I am halfway through as of yesterday, so even that book got dipped into.

It is time to do it again, namely because I have run out of room on my bookshelves and something's gotta give!   I also can't stand to read Infinite Jest every day, and I've been pulling that back to once a week.  I had to wade through two pages of my to-read list to come up with a significant pile, but here it is. I'm going to have dated all of these books (read 50 pages minimum) by August 1. In the meantime, please tell me what you think! Have you read any of these titles?  Any you would steer me away from or encourage me toward?  I'll list the author, title, and brief thoughts on each below.

Fernando Baez - A Universal History of the Destruction of Books
I've read Double Fold by Nicholson Baker twice, where he focuses on libraries' recent roles in book destruction.  This seems like a much longer and international history, and will look great on the shelf in my office, even if I don't decide to read it all.  Ha!

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Strange Pilgrims
Slim volume, short stories, I imagine it will go quickly.  But I thought that of the Borges stories that I keep starting and not finishing.

Doris Lessing - The Grass is Singing
This is a better known work of Lessing; I have read lesser known Lessings.  I predict I'll like it.

Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary
I've just never read this classic and I know it was very scandalous when it was published.  The challenge will be the prose of the translation.

Paul Theroux - Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
I have several Theroux on my shelves and wonder if this is really the best place to start.  It is a revisit by Theroux to a journey he took and chronicled in The Great Railway Bazaar.  I might swap them out since I own both.  Shhhhhh. (Or does it matter?)

Curtis Sittenfeld - American Wife
I've read other books by Sittenfeld, and intended to read this book for my DC pick this year.  Might as well get to it.

Eckhart Tolle - A New Earth
I had such intentions to read this that I ended up with two copies.  I liked The Power of Now, so maybe this will have some good stuff in it.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon - The Shadow of the Wind
I've been saving this because I so loved The Angel's Game.  But now that Zafon has other books coming out translated in English, I don't have to save this one any longer.  And why am I waiting? I expect to love it; the setting and the topic are both right up my narrow Spanish alley.  :)

Ellen Gilchrist - The Writing Life
I tend to enjoy books on writing, and have been intending to read this for a while.  It ended up on the leisure reading shelves at work, so no time like the present.

E. L. Doctorow - Ragtime
I have two Doctorow books at home that I've been intending to read... no three.  Ack!  I don't even know if I like him!  Nathaniel asked me if this is what the musical is based on, and I have no idea.  I guess I'll find out.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review of Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

Istanbul: Memories and the CityIstanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

Along with The World's Literature group, I have been reading a lot of books set in Turkey this year. Just check out what I've covered so far!  Most of the books have been fiction, two have included elements of fantasy (steampunk and nanotech!), and one is a cookbook with photography you would not believe.

BlissBirds Without WingsA Conspiracy of AlchemistsThe DervishSnowThe Dervish HousePurple Citrus & Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean

One of the best known Turkish authors has to be Orhan Pamuk. I've only managed to read one book of his so far, but there are many more on my to-read list to get to. I actually think reading this autobiography/memoir first will add some understanding to any of his books that I read in the future. It covers his childhood in Istanbul, up through his college years and the moment he decides to become a writer.

While this book came out in print in 2003, this audio edition was newly released by Random House in April. I had downloaded it but was listening to another book.

Then this happened:

I was already deeply interested in Turkey, even to the point of learning some of the language and the cuisine, but following the protests and police action in Twitter made me more interested in Istanbul.

Of course, the Istanbul of this book is several decades ago, but you can see traces of a history that breeds an environment where clashes between groups are not exactly unexpected, where poverty and control have always been issues in the background. Pamuk suggests that the most beautiful view of the city is from afar. I'm not sure he really means it, because he continues to return to this concept of hüzün, or melancholy, that he claims is part of the daily lived aesthetic in the life of an Istanbullu. That those living in the city want to feel hüzün, and don't feel as alive without it.

I know Pamuk has been criticized both by the government for not being religious enough and by the public for not being critical of the government enough, but this book makes it clear that he isn't all that interested in making a statement with his writing; he wants to describe. It makes so much sense now, to see his journey from painter to writer, to understand how this plays out in his writing. His descriptions of the black and white landscape of winter is central to Snow, the one book I've read.

I've had dreams about the Bosphorus, a strait in Istanbul separating Asia from Europe. Even though I've never been there and don't have reason to dream of it, I can see why you would. His descriptions of living within view of the river, of the fires and the commerce, made me long for this place I've never experienced.

The reader for the audiobook is John Lee, whose voice is very familiar to me as the reader for Ulysses. He does a good job with the pronunciation of Turkish names, but I kept expecting him to jump into "Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa!" You know you listen to a lot of audiobooks when....