Saturday, November 10, 2012
Orhan Pamuk: By the Book - an interview
The author of “The Innocence of Objects” and “Silent House” believes all American presidents should read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
Ferdowsi’s “Shahnameh” — subtitled “The Persian Book of Kings,” a great translation and compilation by Dick Davis — is a Penguin Classics edition. Like Rumi’s “Masnavi,” or “Arabian Nights,” “Shahnameh” is a great ocean of stories that I browse from time to time in various Turkish and English translations to be inspired by or to adapt an ancient story as I did in “My Name Is Red” and “The Black Book.” At the heart of this epic lies the great warrior Sohrab’s search for his father, Rostam, who without knowing that Sohrab is his son, kills him in a fight.
The place of this great tragic story in the Persian-Ottoman-Mughal literary canon is very similar to the place of the legend of Oedipus in the Western canon, but the story still awaits its inventive Freud to address the similarities and radical differences. Comparative literature can teach us more about East-West than the rhetoric of the “clash of civilizations.”
What’s the last truly great book you read?
The truly great books are always novels: “Anna Karenina,” “The Brothers Karamazov,” “The Magic Mountain.”. . . Just as with “Shahnameh,” I browse these books from time to time to remember how a great book works on us, or to teach my students at Columbia University.
And what’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
The worst books are also bad novels. Just as good books give me the joys of being alive, bad novels depress me and as I notice this sentiment coming from the pages, I stop. I also do not hesitate to walk out of a movie house if the film is bad. Life is short, and we should respect every moment of it.
Any guilty reading pleasures — book, periodical, online?
For a long time I naïvely believed that thrillers and detective novels were a waste of time. And I thought that was why I felt guilty enjoying the novels of Patricia Highsmith. Later I realized that the guilt comes not from reading thrillers but from her ingenious method of making the reader identify with the murderer. She is a great Dostoyevskian crime writer. I also wish I had read more of John Le Carré. I feel guilty if I read too much book-chat on the Internet.