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.

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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.

museumofinnocence1

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.

museumofinnocence2

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.

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.

CHICAGO TIME Is Available the World Over

From my Inbox….Amazon has announced that books published through their Kindle Direct Program are now available in India through Amazon.com.

This means that in addition to the US and Canada, my novel CHICAGO TIME is available in the following Amazon stores:

UK

France

Spain

Germany

Italy

I go to China and when I return I find that my novel is getting easier to buy the world over. How cool is that?

$888 For My Book? Are You Crazy?

I went over to Amazon to look at how my novel CHICAGO TIME is doing. Plus, I don’t get tired of seeing my book for sale on Amazon.com (or Smashwords for that matter).

When I looked the page over, I noticed that others were selling my book, too. One vendor in particular caught my eye.

Really? $888? I’m sorry, but if anyone pays $888 for my book, they’re getting ripped off. To top it off, that vendor doesn’t even give you free shipping. Which is beyond insulting.

Book In Hand

It’s a pretty damn good feeling to be holding the book you’ve written in your own hands. I received my own copies the other day.

So please allow me a few bits of bandwidth to revel in this; my very own copy of my very own first novel.

See, my novel CHICAGO TIME sits on the shelf in some good company. 🙂