For the most part, I think the reading life has been full of surprises and pleasant ones, at that. In a previous post I remember talking about how the arrangement of books on a shelf has been akin to keeping a diary. Each milestone, commonly rough around the edges, has been marked by a mandatory re-shuffle of books and copious lists have been made in the process. It’s a dreary, dusty affair full of sneezing, wheezing and wiping off all the dust…occasionally I also stop to read or make mental notes which might upset my mother from time to time because it takes so long to do and I make such a mess.
I take great pains to preserve these books or at least give them a semblance of love and affection because once, when I was much younger, they were the only friends I knew. Growing up bookish is never attractive to peers and it took nearly seven painful years of grade school for me to finally understand what friendship was outside of the literary worlds. But of course my indebtedness to these paper creatures that fed, clothed and saved me was great. The only real people I knew before were locked up in books waiting for me to let them out. It was like summoning people from a library throne. Out would come Anne Frank, David Copperfield, red gnomes and black gnomes who made these incredible devices, Hamlet, C.S. Lewis‘ wardrobe and lots and lots of adventures! I’d have conversations in my head with the lot of them and soon I’d developed a habit of talking to myself; something which to this day my mom and my niece claim I do. Perhaps I do but I rarely notice what’s become second nature. This strange habit learned through years of silence on the outside but waves of conversation on the inside leads me to V.S Pritchett and these words of his:
When the inner history of any writer’s mind is written, we find (I believe) that there is a break at some point in his life. At some point, he splits off from the people who surround him and he discovers the necessity of talking to himself and not to them.
It was a surprise discovery as I have not yet read any of his words. The Guardian tells me that he’s a master of the short story but other than that, I know so little of him and it’s of no help that I confuse his name with V.S. Naipaul! In any case, the confusion has now reached its end because, by some other cosmic hand, this quote appeared to me in a conversation between two other writers that I most admire.
Paul Theroux‘s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star was an impulse buy of last Friday at Booksale moments after I left Pat and just before I ran into Aldrin. Theroux has a way with beginnings that moves me because he talks about traveling the way I know it to be (fodder for another post). So I bought all 75 pesos of him thinking that it would make sense to add to my small four-book Theroux collection. What I hadn’t anticipated was the incredible chapter contained in the book.
But before that, I’d been dreaming of Turkey lately and soaking up on a lot of Orhan Pamuk. His Nobel award in 2006 encouraged translations and for once I found myself reading about Turkey from someone who actually lived and breathed most of his life there. He hardly moves out of the country and that’s perhaps why he can write about it so convincingly. His memories of the city (that volume entitled Istanbul) as well as his essays in the book Other Colors are among the most often browsed books on my shelf. Later, when The Museum of Innocence would surface, I found that I had a deep longing for the sight of the Bosphorus and the entirety of Turkey in itself. It’s a shame so few Turkish writers (or most non-white/non-English-speaking writers from the world over) will see no translation.
In my mind’s eye, I could see myself running away conveniently by train past Asia, into Europe and maybe through Russia until I reached Ankara and Cappadoccia and then Istanbul. I’d dream of all the conversations I could have with Mr. Pamuk and sometimes while in the shower or in the middle of a walk, I’d catch myself asking questions out loud…”Tell me more about your father.” “Why were you so quiet when you were a character in Museum of Innocence?” “Did you fall in love just as your characters did?” “What’s to happen to Turkey now that it becomes increasingly difficult for the country to enter the EU?” Long conversations ensued and I would guess answers depending on bits and pieces I’ve read here and there and on some days, I’d give up and just whisper a tiny prayer, “God, take me to Turkey please and help me find this man because I really, really must speak to him. I have to beg him to walk me through his Istanbul and introduce me to the Bosphorus of his youth.”
I grew nostalgic for a place I’ve never seen, for a man I’d never heard of before his Nobel was bestowed upon him. This madness only books with their lofty ideas could bring…and even then, they would be their own remedy.
Inside Theroux’s book is a chapter on his surprise conversation with Pamuk. Had I not skimmed past a few chapters, I’d have missed it but when I finally cast my eye upon the page, I was spellbound! Pamuk, who refuses to be interviewed often, was at Theroux’s party making jokes and conversing in a way I had never known possible. He’s a comic after all (a description I would never have offered after reading him) and if not for Theroux’s wonderful chapter on Pamuk and the writer-ly life, I would have given up entirely on this pipe dream of meeting him and exploring Istanbul at his side.
I still hope things turn out the way I dream them to at night but at least for now, the books have helped show me the way once again. In Manila where the heat burns at 36 degrees Celsius and the nights are cut short by impatient sunrises, I can watch the days pass and look up at blue skies thinking maybe one day, this blue will be the background for a hundred minarets and rooftops in the Turkey of my dreams. The Bosphorus will gleam and I’ll look upon it knowing that once, it was just another name for a strait that would not have appealed to me were it not for two men and their incredible words. Their books, nay, the words themselves which, when we fall short of affections, will be enough to build bridges across cultures and create a world made new…all the time.
The pleasure of writing novels comes from exploring this peculiarly modern condition whereby people are forever contradicting their own minds. It is because our modern minds are so slippery that freedom of expression becomes so important: we need it to understand ourselves, our shady, contradictory, inner thoughts, and the pride and shame that I mentioned earlier.
– Orhan Pamuk, Freedom to Write (p.74 of the PEN American Center’s Burn This Book)