Posts filed under ‘essays’


other colors by renowned turkish author¬†Orhan Pamuk¬†is a collection of essays from the last 3 decades encompassing the history and politics of istanbul as seen through the eyes of the city’s most famous writer

Winner of the 2006 nobel prize, pamuk reveals himself in these essays to be extremely well read, obsevant and reflective, as you might expect for a nobel winning author, but also very hard working and perhaps obsessive.

One dissappointment of the book is that being non-fiction i dont think you get exposure to his full capacities as a writer. only occasionally, as on page 25 where he says ‘The inside of the refrigerator is as bright and crowded as the boulevard of a distant happy city’, do you get a real feel for his creativity.

However, there are lots of consolations, for example he talks with great sensitivity about relationships, about istanbul, in particular its ferries, and about reading.

Its this last one, where he is at his best. he is able to discuss the task of reading in general, and the experience of reading specific books or authors very articulately. so much so the middle third of the book is really literature 101, or a cheats guide to being well read, because you can read these chapters so you dont have to read the classics he discusses.

a good example is his discussion of tolstoy. as with several of the other authors he discusses, he describes for the reader how he reacted to tolstoy as a young man, middle aged and slightly older. how he has the time to read everything three times one can only guess. very interestingly for Australians he sees the connection between himself and tolstoy as being people outside europe, familiar with european literature and traditions, looking at europe and their own culture and trying determine something about their identity and the way forward.

For bookgrouper peter this was pamuk’s discussion of a big contemporary issue – authenticity. Is pamuk an authentic turkish voice or is he ‘too’ european, is he an authentic european or ‘too’ turkish? These are familiar questions for australians and the answers as always are complicated, nuanced, combinations of yes and no. i get the feeling pamuk ended up where a lot of australians end up. We are not sure why but we know when we go to europe, or other countries in asia, or america, or anywhere else that we are not european, etc, we are from here but with varying degrees of influence from europe, asia and america depending how much, as individuals, we’ve read, travelled etc from and in those places.

Some other issues the book sheds light on, particularly its stories from his childhood, include

– turkeys bid for eu membership, both why they want it and don’t want it
– the long tail of empires, in that the islands of Istanbul were used by the ottomans, the Brits and more recently the westernised turkish middle class, and bear the imprint of all those groups

finally pamuk it seems is an interesting, if somewhat obsessive guy. for example he has turned one of his novels, the ‘museum of innocence’ into a real museum, which is a pretty strange but impressive achievement


October 6, 2012 at 7:34 am Leave a comment


We thought we were going to be very intellectual for this group, because we had decided to read huge fat, and recent, collections of essays by two renowned readers/writers/critics/intellectuals.

but the truth was different
– firstly, given their size, most of us didnt get through them, and
– secondly many, though not all, were disappointed with what we did read.

the clive james had a few fans in the group but several detractors also. the book has 100+ essays, theoretically each about a historical figure, including people from history, politics movies, culture etc, many fairly obscure though notable in some way.

the fans liked the variety, surprise, humour and style of it. The detractors found his dirty old man side, his constant name dropping and lack of discussion of the actual life or thought or work of his subjects annoying.

Both supporters and detractors agreed on a few things
– it was largely a book about writing as he talked at length about the writing of each subject
– clive is incredibly well read and many of his subjects, particularly the lesser known ones were surprisingly interesting
– it was entertaining rather than academic

my tip would be if you are reading it to find out about the subjects of each essay you would do better looking them up on wikipedia, but if you do that and then want a reflection, or opinion, on the person then the book may help.

the eco was a surprise. bookgroupers went into this one a little intimidated expecting a book of essays by a famous global intellect to be well researched and argued in logical detail. but as with the clive james it turned out to be entertainment. the essays were actually mainly written for newspapers and s their function is to interest, amuse or provoke sufficiently to sell the papers.

i found it very good, largely because i agreed with nearly all of it, but it was not especially enlightening. It was like a discussion at book group, or at a dinner party, smart and well informed but not anymore based on evidence or research than any reasonably typical discussion of an issue you might have with your friends – assuming your friends are petty smart, fairly left wing, and pretty well educated

April 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm Leave a comment


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