Orhan Pamuk and the Books He Couldn't Help But Collect

I'm a few issues behind in my New York Reviews of Books (I'm a few issues behind in everything), but I just came across Orhan Pamuk's piece about his "Turkish Library" in the December 18 issue, and had to pass along his evocative list of some of the books that washed up on his shelves:

I wasn't buying like a book collector but like a frantic person who was desperate to understand why Turkey was so poor and so troubled. When I was in my twenties and my friends came to visit the house where I lived with my parents, and they asked me why I was buying these books that were filling up the house so fast, I could never give them an answer that satisfied them. The house motif in the Gümüshane Legends; Ethem the Circassian's behind-the-scenes description of the rebellion against Atatürk; the inventory of political assassinations during the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1922) when the Young Turks were in charge; the story of the parrot that the ambassador in London sent to Sultan Abdülhamit; the collection of prototype love letters for the bashful; the political memoirs of the doctor who opened Turkey's first sanatorium; the lecture notes of a commisar who taught students in the police school about minor street crimes committed by pickpockets, confidence men, swindlers, and suchlike.

Then there were the six-volume, document-laden memoirs by a former president; another book detailing the ways in which the moral code of Ottoman guilds had influenced modern business practices; the Paris memoirs of a forgotten 1930s artist; a book about the tricks played by merchants to increase the price of hazelnuts; a weighty five-hundred-page collection of critiques of Marxists aligned with China and Albania, written by Marxists aligned with the Soviet Union; the story of the transformation of the city of Eregli following the opening of its iron and steel factories; a book for children entitled 100 Famous Turks; the story of the Great Aksaray fire of 1911; a collection of columns written between the two world wars by a journalist who'd been utterly forgotten for thirty years; a two-hundred-page history covering two thousand years in a small city in central Anatolia whose location was hard to pinpoint with any confidence on a map; and the claims made by a retired teacher who, though he had no knowledge of English, had worked out who shot Kennedy just by reading the Turkish papers. Was I interested in the authors of such works to read them from cover to cover? In later years, whenever someone asked, "Mr. Pamuk, have you read all the books in your library?," I would, without taking the question at all lightly, say, "Yes. But even if I hadn't read them all, they still might prove useful."


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