My Incomplete List of Books Concerning Turkey

During my time in Istanbul I read several books all related to Turkey in some way. Some books I managed to finish reading. Others not. This list reflects my own wandering idiosyncratic interests.

Orhan Pamuk – The Big Guy. Numero Uno. World-Renowned. Nobel-Prize Winner. Many years ago I read The Black Book. I found it difficult to like. It seemed to wander endlessly with little payoff. It concerns a man in love with his cousin but this cousin is in a relationship with another cousin, who is a columnist for a newspaper. After the columnist and his love disappear, the narrator assumes his cousin’s role at the newspaper. Stories about Istanbul are spun out that I think you have to have lived here and be Turkish to appreciate. And some weirdness. Maybe I’ll try again, now that I’ve lived here. Probably not.

I read The Museum of Innocence after I had visited the actual namesake museum. I would have titled the book, Museum of Misery. A shlub from a wealthy, secular, proud Istanbul family is engaged to smart, beautiful, wealthy woman. But then he meets a cousin and develops an obsession with her that leads to an affair which has all kinds of tragic consequences. He ends up destroying this woman’s life, and by extension, her. And then he creates a museum dedicated to his love for her consisting of 4000 cigarette butts and hundreds of other objects she touched that he stole from her family’s apartment. His obsession is aided and abetted by her parents. Hundreds of pages go back and forth ad nauseum about how “When I was with Fusun I was so happy even though I couldn’t touch her. When I was not with Fusun I was so depressed.” Over and over and over and over and over. “Oh and there was a coup and a curfew imposed but that just made it harder to see Fusun.” I can’t remember hating a book so much. I wouldn’t hate it so much except I’m completely baffled at people believing it to be not just a good book but a great book, one that deserves the bizarre museum that shares its name. Fusun herself is not much of a character, a woman whose few words and being are nearly suffocated under the weight of the overbearingly whiny narrator. But then, she’s merely a beautiful object for a man to obsess over and unthinkingly destroy. Maybe there are several layers of Turkish culture I as yet need to learn in order to understand this novel and all the fuss.

My Name is Red is a murder mystery set amid the miniaturists who worked for the Sultan in the 16th century. It’s about art, love, integrity, tradition, religious faith, and so much more. Told from multiple points of view, including the killer’s, it’s funny, sad, ridiculous, and grim. Of course, Black, the man whose task it is to solve the murder, is in love with his cousin Shekure. If you haven’t yet read anything by Pamuk this is the book I would recommend.

Pamuk would be a better storyteller if wasn’t such a windbag. A friend reminded me that Pamuk was trained as an architect, which he says explains Pamuk’s inability to be concise about anything. And what’s with all the first cousins gettin’ busy in his books?

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. This novel was the subject of a well-known trial in Turkey. The author was accused of insulting Turkishness. Yes, insulting Turkishness is against the law. Freedom of speech isn’t much of an ideal in Turkey, what with all the journalists in jail, people being fined or threatened with imprisonment for being an atheist. A humorous but ultimately tragic book that jumps right into the taboo topic here of the Armenian Genocide by looking at the story of two families, one Turkish, one Armenian, over several generations, on two different continents, and how they’re lives are intertwined.

Tales from the Expat Harem. This collection of essays from expat women living in (or having lived in) Turkey was published in 2006. Like any collection, some of the essays are excellent and some just ho-hum. For me, in 2014, some of these essays display a Turkey that is hard to fathom still exists (women melting lead and pouring it to dispel perceived bad luck), others show how funny and uncomfortable things can be when an independent Western woman inadvertently collides with deeply held beliefs. My favorites are by a hotel owner, a reporter who covered the war agains the Kurds in the early 1990’s, and a young woman who bemoans the confusion she and her girlfriends experience in dating Turkish men. All offer an interesting look at Turkey during different decades, from the 60’s to the early aughts.

Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Jack and his partner decide to leave England (cold and damp with spots of sun) for Bodrum (sun, warmth, and great food). Hilarity, frustration, and confusion ensue. What began as a blog, became a book. You can still read his adventures (he’s back in England now) over at Perking the Pansies.

Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montague. Montague was the wife of a British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Her letters cover their travels across the European continent to Constantinople and her time spent in the Ottoman capital. Interesting read from the perspective of a sympathetic Western woman, and her account of the lives of the Ottoman women she befriended.

A Memento for Istanbul by Ahmet Umit. This book was a gift from our tour guide in Kusadasi. It starts with a murder and then travels through this seductive city’s history as the bodies pile up. It’s a good, entertaining read, even if I find the narrator to be wholly unbelievable as an Istanbul police officer given what I’ve seen of Turkish riot police and their attitudes toward protestors and murdered transgender sex workers.

Leila and Majnun by Nizami. The Persian poet Nizami wrote this tale of love and madness centuries ago. Majnun is literally Arabic for “madman” or “the possessed.” It’s a story well-known throughout the Middle East and is often alluded to by writers.

Procopius. In his Histories, he documented first-hand the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and how General Belisaurius reconquered Rome and re-expanded the Roman empire. In his Secret History, published posthumously, he documented how Belisaurius’ wife screwed every man not named Belisaurius including her own slaves and then had one put to death, and how Justinian was a corrupt idiot and his wife a scandalous nymph. The Secret History is the more interesting read due to its salacious content. I never did finish the Histories. My bad. Shows you what interests me more.

Ataturk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango. I tried reading this biography four years ago. It’s considered the best in English but I put it down after 200 pages or so. At the time I found it dull Or maybe I should have pushed through. I pushed through with The Museum of Innocence and look what that did for me.

Bliss by O.Z. Livaneli. The story follows Meryem, a teenage girl from a village in Eastern Turkey. She is raped by her uncle and is then condemned to death. Since she won’t hang herself, her cousin is ordered to take her to Istanbul and kill her there. Their path eventually crosses with Irfan, a middle-age professor who’s having a major mid-life crisis. One day Irfan leaves his wife and job as a professor, rents a boat and sales along the Aegean Coast. What happens when the three meet is a clash of cultures within Turkey. A tense, illuminating read.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Technically not a Turkish book. But I happened to be reading it during our move last year and was pleasantly surprised at the major plot twist that transforms Orlando in Constantinople. So I include it here. It was made into a well-known movie starring Tilda Swinton, which I have yet to watch.

What to Do When the Company That Makes Your Ebook Reader Exits the Market?

The big news in the ebook world back in North America is that Sony is closing its Reader ebook store and transitioning it customer base to Kobo. The closing was not much of a surprise after Sony stopped selling their digital readers in the US this past Fall.

The fact they are trying to give their soon-to-be former customers a smooth transition to another company is a welcome surprise. Like all the other Sony Reader owners, I received an email explaining how the transition is supposed to happen. I don’t know how smooth it will be. I hope all the books I purchased are also available on Kobo.

I bought a Sony Reader (PRS-350) back in Spring of 2011. I like the design and the touchscreen interface. The fact that the casing is metal has always made it feel durable to me.

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I’ve been splitting my time between ebooks and dead tree books. The Sony Reader has come in very handy for our temporary move here to Istanbul. I bought several books and put them on the Reader before we left for Turkey. Books are heavy. And the airlines don’t let you bring as much (even on international flights) as they used to. Well, they do, but you have to pay more for it.

Having the Reader also allowed me to acquire copies of Turkey-related books like Lady Montagu’s Letters and the writings of Procopius, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. The former was the perceptive wife of the British ambassador to Turkey during the early 18th century. The latter was a historian during the age of Justinian here in what was then Constantinople. I also have the ebook of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. I hope to read that before we leave Istanbul in the Summer.

When my Sony Reader dies what will I do? Nook will be dead soon. Do I go with a Kobo or join in the modern eReader Borg (aka Kindle)?

I have time to decide despite the fact that after nearly three years the battery life on my Sony Reader is noticeably less than what it once was (though significantly longer than my smart phone and my wife’s iPad). Regardless, I’m glad I always keep copies of my ebooks on my laptop. I don’t understand these people with wifi readers who don’t have their own backup copies. If it comes down to an issue of compatibility with my future ebook reader, I’ll just strip the DRM from my Sony Reader bookstore purchases.

Note: The screensaver picture on my Sony Reader is one I took of Beyazit Tower back in the late summer. My wife has since been able to tour the tower.

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The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence is both a novel and an actual museum created by Nobel prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk. It’s in a small three-story building in the Cihangır neighborhood on a street (Çukurcuma) known for its antique shops. I visited the museum one afternoon last week with my wife and a friend of ours.

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That’s the museum from the outside; the red building. I’d show you pictures of the museum from the inside but you are forbidden from taking pictures inside. There is a handsome-looking book containing photos of all of the museums artifacts for sale in the museum bookshop…Here’s a picture of the street next to the museum.

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The museum is an interesting concept. It contains thousands of items that Pamuk collected for the book. Items he had the characters use, or items that the characters would have come into contact with in some form, thereby creating a real-world still life of the novel. There are keys, soda bottles, commercials on old TVs, a dress, tea (there is always tea in Turkey), pieces of an automobile dashboard, photographs, and so on. It’s extensive. So extensive that one wall contains 4000 cigarette butts with notations under each of them, depicting what the character was thinking/feeling while smoking that particular cigarette.

I have not yet read The Museum of Innocence. (I have an ebook version on my Sony Reader right now.) The only books by Pamuk I have read are My Name Is Red and The Black Book. The former is excellent and I highly recommend it. Among the books in our apartment is a copy of My Name Is Red in English. I finished reading it a month or so ago.It’s a murder mystery set during the Ottoman Era involving a group of miniaturists. The miniaturists are grappling with their centuries-old techniques for painting giving way to the realistic depictions of the “Franks” in Italy and the West threatening to invade and change their art form.

The Black Book I read nearly a decade ago and I had to trudge through it. The stories seemed to just go on and on and I never quite connected with the characters.

Our friend Jim (a Fulbright Fellow who works in architecture and urban planning) pointed out that since Pamuk was trained as an architect that’s probably why he’s so wordy at times.

Also in the museum, on the top floor, are pages taken from Pamuk’s notebooks. They contain his early drafts and drawings for the novel, all on graph paper.

It’s such an unique museum. I haven’t encountered anything quite like it. I’d like to read the book and then come back.

DIY Publishing 101, Part 6 – Get ISBN Numbers

This is the sixth, and final, post in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Get ISBN Numbers

Each book published needs an ISBN. What’s an ISBN? An International Standard Book Number. Which means that the term “ISBN Number” is redundant. But it has passed into common usage, regardless. The number is the long string of digits you see on the bar code on the back of the printed book. You’ll see it, too, included with the information about the ebook wherever it’s sold (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

Bowker has the monopoly on ISBN numbers here in the U.S. Like all monopolies they charge whatever they feel like charging. They charge $125 for one ISBN. For CHICAGO TIME, I needed three ISBNs:

  • one for the ebook sold through Smashwords
  • one for the ebook sold through Amazon.com
  • one for the printed version sold through Amazon.com

If I bought just three, it would have cost me $375. Luckily and oddly, they charge $250 for 10 ISBNs. I bought 10 for $250. I plan on writing more books.

There are a lot of pros and cons for using the ISBN numbers provided by Amazon, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. It’s also true that some ebook sites offer free ISBNs.

I won’t go into a long explanation about the problems with free ISBNs versus buying your own, because Joel Friedlander over at The Book Designer does a much better job than I ever could in a highly informative post, titled, “ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers.” In that post he gives two reasons for owning your ISBNs.

  1. The ISBN contains within it a “publisher identifier.” This enables anyone to locate the publisher of any particular book or edition. If you use a “free” ISBN from an author services company or a subsidy publisher, that company will be identified in bibliographic databases as the publisher.
  2. Owning your own ISBNs gives you the ability to control the bibliographic record for your book. This is an important part of your book’s metadata, and is a key component in your book being discoverable by online searchers. This has a powerful influence on your efforts to attract search engine traffic to your title.

I’m possessive. I bought ISBNs because, from a business standpoint, I wanted to be known as the publisher of my books.

One more thing about ISBNs. For the printed version, you need a bar code generated from a combination of the ISBN and the price. I paid Bowker $25 for generating the bar code. You can find all kinds of widgets on the Internet that will generate a bar code for you. Personally, I didn’t want to risk any problems with the bar code not having a high enough resolution or being plain wrong. So I stuck with Bowker. Once I had the bar code, I added it to the cover in the place I had blocked out for it.

With this post, I hereby wrap up my short guide to DIY publishing. If you have any questions please feel free to post them in the comments or send me an email. I’m happy to help those who are thinking about becoming an indie author. Go for it! I don’t regret going indie one bit.

I’m a Fathermucker

When I first heard about the novel Fathermucker by Greg Olear I immediately added it to my Amazon.com Wishlist. I use that wishlist as a list of Things I Really Ought To Read. If a particular book is available at my local library, I’ll get it there. Unfortunately, Fathermucker is not available at my local library. Luckily, for my birthday my sister bought the book for me.

Fathermucker was published last year. There’s a blog, too, a damn good one.

Fathermucker the book is about a day in the life of Stay-at-Home-Dad (SAHD) Josh Lansky. Josh is having a very bad Friday. He’s the father of a five year-old boy with Asperger’s and a three-year-old daughter. It’s Day Five of his wife Stacy’s out-of-town business trip. He is tired. His nerves are frayed. His small kids act as charming, infuriating, and messy as small kids act. Then Sharon, a mother in their kids’ playgroup, tells Josh that she’s pretty sure Stacy is cheating on him, and chaos ensues with much hilarity throughout the rest of the day.

The title of the book is author Greg Olear’s word for fathers who stay at home and take care of the kids. He says, “It implies the mucking up of gender roles, which is what makes it so appropriate. It conveys the messiness, the blurriness, the sloppiness of SAHD-dom.”

Sloppiness, indeed.

The world Olear describes in Fathermucker is one similar in many ways to the one in which I live, but also remarkably different. First off, the setting of New Paltz, NY sounds like a Very Liberal small town, the kind you can only find on the East Coast. In the Midwest, small towns are conservative. As far as I know, there is not a small town in Michigan that hosts a Gay Pride Parade.

Second, here are some things that Josh does that I do not do.

Eat at McDonald’s several times a week. Though I do buy my kids French fries from McDonald’s. I tried their slushy drinks recently as I was craving something approximating the slushy drinks from CoCo in Shanghai. I was disappointed.

Subscribe to and read US Weekly. I only read the headlines in the checkout lane at the grocery store….Though I have been tempted to buy a copy.

Go on regular playdates with a regular group of moms. There isn’t a large collection of urban-minded moms like you’ll find in major cities, or those suburbs or small towns where urban-minded moms and their partners move when they realize how expensive it is to raise kids in a major U.S. city. Generally speaking, these are the kinds of moms who are not freaked out by a fathermucker. Also, parents here aren’t into hover-parenting the way Professional Type A Parents on the coasts are, supervising every single moment of their childrens’ upbringing.

Wear the same pair of jeans for two weeks straight. I have managed to maintain much better hygiene, thank you very much.

Third, here are some things that happen to Josh that have never happened to me.

Sold a screenplay. Though I did publish a novel.

Get hit on by a mom. Nope, never happened, thankfully.

The rest of the book, which is to say the vast majority of it, is a pretty accurate, funny, evocation of the challenges, fun, and insecurities of being a fathermucker. Not to mention how under siege you can feel as a parent to small children. Here’s Josh about putting off the kids immediate demands,

Kids have no concept of time. Ever again, forever, yesterday, tomorrow, last year, next month—none of these terms have any real meaning to a child, especially a three-year-old. Sometimes you can use this to your advantage. Sure, you can say, we’ll go there tomorrow. Or, We’ll buy the new Lego set next week. So few arrows in the parental quiver—important to use the full comportment of weaponry at your disposal, however meager their power (and however deceptive their advertising).

And here’s Josh talking about one of the mothers in the playgroup.

The other issue with Gloria is that she’s a stay-at-home mom—a SAHM, as they call themselves on the comment boards at the Hudson Valley Parents website—to a single child. With the first kid, you want everything to be perfect, and you tend to rail against the many forces at work to corrupt the pure, blameless creature in your care. Little lamb, who made thee? Once a sibling enters the world, you stop drilling the first kid on his ABCs and his multiplication tables, and charting when they feed and sleep and poop, and you chill the fuck out at playdates.
Gloria is a SAHM. That makes Haven a Son of SAHM.
And it make me SAHD.

Read Fathermucker for several laughs about being a parent in this day and age with playdates, Legos, “Mommy Wars,” Yo Gabba Gabba, child-wrecked minivans, playlists, more Legos, and Dora the Explorer.

Oh, and I guarantee you that you will not be able to think about Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat in the same way again.

DIY Publishing 101, Part 5 – Format Your Files for Printed Publication

This is part five in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One, Two, Three, and Four.

Format Your Files for Printed Publication

Formatting for Dead Tree is both more complicated than ebook formatting yet slightly easier. It’s more complicated because there usually are more paragraph and heading tags, and then there are the lovely section breaks if you are using Microsoft Word that have a habit of blowing up or behaving not as intended.

The nice thing about print is that the layout you design is the layout that will appear on the printed page. With the ebook, text flows according to the size of the font the reader chooses.

Since I used CreateSpace for the printed version of CHICAGO TIME, I used their templates for both the page layout and the cover. Using their Word template, with CreateSpace’s paragraph styles, headings, and section/page breaks, should have made the process very easy.

On the whole it was. But as is always the case, something unexpected did show up.

There was a font someone had put inside the document for the page layout that kept coming up as not being supported whenever I submitted the document for approval. This happened several times. I ended up having to do a search in every single header and footer, in ever single section on every single page, until I found every offending font usage and deleted it. Ah, the joys of Microsoft Word.

Once the files has been approved by CreateSpace, then you need to proof the your book. You need to make sure the cover will wrap around your book properly and the text appears on the printed page as you intend.

CreateSpace gives you two options for proofing the book: digital and printed. The digital option gives you the opportunity to view the file online, page by page with the cover, or as a PDF that you can download to your computer and view. This can be done as soon as CreateSpace determines your files meet their submission requirements.

For the printed proof option, CreateSpace will print a copy of the book with the cover and mail it to you. This takes a few days.

I opted for the digital proof and viewed my novel online. If I found something, I fixed it in the document. When I was done, I resubmitted the file. Once the files were approved, I did another round of proofing, and had the book sent to be readied for sale.

[RANT: I’m going to rant a little about Microsoft Word. I spent over a decade as a technical writer, creating documentation for many different kinds of hardware and software. Places where I was allowed to use FrameMaker made my day much easier. Places where I was forced to use Word gave me daily headaches.

Word is an excellent tool for word processing. It’s a dreadful tool for desktop publishing. Any technical writer who tells you they think Word is a perfectly fine tool for performing desktop publishing is a technical writer who should not be allowed to write documentation.

Word is unstable. Section breaks don’t always work as they should. For a time there were those wonderfully unstable Master Docs. Every time I ventured to use them, my documents became corrupted and I had to start all over with them.

These are problems I never had while using FrameMaker. With FrameMaker I think I had corrupt documents maybe twice in all the years I used it for various employers. With FrameMaker I created complex training documents that used all kinds of conditional text for for the Instructor and Participant guides, and whole manuals that ended up being converted to PDFX and uploaded to a server on the other side of the planet, all without a problem.

End of RANT.]

DIY Publishing 101, Part 4 – Format Your Files for Ebook Publication

This is part four in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One, Two, and Three.

Format Your Files for Ebook Publication

There are two parts to formatting your files: digital and dead tree. I’m going to describe the digital portion first. My next post will deal with formatting for print.

When you are composing your great tome in your word processor, make sure you know how to use paragraph formatting. When I say “paragraph formatting,” I do not mean going through and manually fixing each and every paragraph. I mean that you should use the full powers of those paragraph styles in your word processing program, such as Microsoft Word.

Paragraph styles make it easy when composing. Paragraph styles also make it easy when formatting the text of your book according to the standards defined by Amazon and Smashwords. For an ebook you essentially need only a handful of paragraphs styles: Normal or Body (for text), a Heading style for Chapter headings, maybe even a separate style for the first paragraph of each chapter, one for the Title, and one for the sections (like the Dedication and Acknowledgments, etc.).

If you write with double-spacing between the lines, you’ll have to get rid of that spacing when you go to publish. It’s easier when you can simply redefine the paragraph styles, thus making the changes near instantaneous. Among other things, you’ll also have to decide how large a paragraph indent for each paragraph, define the space between each paragraph, define Chapter headings, and apply those universally.

When I’m writing, I use Mariner Write. It’s a no-frills word processor available for the Mac. I’ve used it for years because it’s fast-performing and has all of the basic tools that I need for writing.

When I needed to format CHICAGO TIME for Amazon and Smashwords, I converted the file to Word format and made two files: one for Amazon and one for Smashwords. Then I used Microsoft Word to modify the paragraph formatting according to the needs of both Amazon and Smashwords. Each site has different conversion software and therefore different requirements for formatting.

For Amazon, you need to convert your file to HTML before uploading it. Using Word, this is easy. Once you’ve made all the style changes in the text, you simply select Save As and then choose the HTML format when saving the file.

For Smashwords, you can use the Word file. The Smashwords converter has a reputation for being finicky. But I would follow their advice in their Style Guide and reformat all the paragraphs. This ensures a clean file with consistent, well-defined paragraph styles.

Once the files are uploaded and accepted by Amazon or Smashwords, you must download them and view them on an ereader, like your Nook, Sony Reader, Kindle, or whatever digital reader you use to read so you can proof the files.

I cannot stress this step enough. Too often the text looks just fine on your word processor but looks wrong in your reader. You might have to fix a stray paragraph or two, or a link in the table of contents doesn’t work. I had the latter problem because Word inserted its own hidden tag into the text of my Acknowledgments heading, thus breaking the link I had set up to the Acknowledgments.

Proofing the files in your ereader might take a few iterations. But, just like hiring a copy editor, it’s worth the extra effort to make sure that your readers have a smooth and enjoyable reading experience.

 

P.S. I’m not a fan of Microsoft Word as a desktop publishing tool. But I recommend using it for ebook publishing because it’s the default tool with the most universally-accepted format. I’ll save the reasons for my dislike for the next post.