Turkish Taffy: Back in 2003 I began reading My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is a Turkish writer who received the Nobel prize for literature. Totally bored and confused by the book, I passed it on unfinished to the director of WestConn U’s Haas Library. He shrieked that Pamuk was a great writer. I shrugged; not my cup of tea. Elif Batuman writing in The New Yorker [Nov. 24 issue] said she was asked not only about Pamuk but about her inability to finish Pamuk. “Why don’t we talk about something else?” she asked. “I’ll tell you why,” the Turkish interviewer responded. “None of us can finish Pamuk, but you’re the only one who says so openly.” I feel vindicated.
Score Card: I’ve finished (or am still reading) 27 books this year and it’s not yet Halloween. My bogey is two dozen books a year. Less than that, I’ve either begun writing another turgid novel or goofing off. My scorecard is a Readlist of title and author I’ve maintained since 1971. Maintaining a score card also keeps me from wallowing in science fiction or mystery/detective genres.
The first half dozen “reads” that year were The Greening of America (William Reich), Future Shock," (Alvin Toffler), Diary of an Old Man (Junichiro Tanizaki), War and Peace in a Global Village (Marshall McLuhan), Blue Movie (Terry Southern) and Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut). So many “must read” authors back then. But nowadays, does any college student pick up Magister Ludi by Herman Hesse or anything by Buckminister Fuller or William Burroughs? Perhaps the bestsellers define our thinking as much as we search for truths that become bestsellers.
E-Books for Ephemera: I think I’ve reached a conclusion as to which books to download and which deserve killing a tree. If I don’t care to shelve it in the bookcase and go back to it as an asset, I find the electronic version. I download books written by friends and acquaintances because — face it — none of them are beauties like Colson Whitehead’s Colossus of New York or textually thick resources like David Hackett Fischer’s 900-page, heavily footnoted Albion’s Seed.
Like most readers, I also regularly flip back to confirm a character or situation, flip ahead to see where the next chapter break is, or meander to the table of contents or author’s bio as my own amuse bouche. This demands paper leaves with all their smell and typography. And, truthfully, I love bookmarks, always adding to my little collection from Borders (R.I.P.), the Coop in Harvard Square, the Bryn Mawr Bookstore, Porter Square Books, Mad Tom’s in Manchester, Heffer’s in Cambridge, England, and the Globe in Boston. E-books are unable to engender or hold memories.