I read because each reading has the ability to shift the angle of my worldview, and this is in turn feeds the will, the desire to live. This is my crack and as a result I am a ravenous and indiscriminate reader.
I haven't read any of Pamuk's fiction, but I intend to after having read this book. It is great, although I would not recommend it to people with a short attention span - you will be nodding off. I'll go into more detail below.
- The language is rich and paints a detailed picture - in fact, I found that the photographs that illustrate the book, although beautiful, were not needed - your imagination and the text would definitely be enough. On the downside, some of the language is verbose and clumsy - sometimes it reads like those memoirs from a different century, and you almost expect to be directly addressed as a 'most distinguished reader' (or the like).
- I was slightly irritated by the patriotic tendency to isolate global features of humankind as belonging to Istanbul and its inhabitants alone. It's like people who come to London or Paris, get lost in the stampede at the tourist sites, eat rubbish overpriced food, spend no time or effort in finding out anything else about the place, then go back and talk about how special their hometown is and how disappointing the rest of the world is. On the up side, the fact that this 'spirit of Istanbul' (melancholy/huzun, poverty, romanticising of the past, etc.) is not a distinctive phenomenon, means that you can read this book and identify with it, recognise yourself and your environment in it, and actually like it a lot. It is not necessary to agree with Pamuk that Istanbullus are the only people who live near a body of water AND choose to look at it through their window or who are interested in watching a fire.
- Pamuk refers to a few artists (painters, writers) again and again, which some people will find tedious, but personally I thought it was helpful. If, like me, you will not have heard of most of them (read: the Turkish ones), it is helpful that he goes into this detail because it does not leave you feeling inadequate and instead leaves you feeling like you have learned something, both about these men and about the city. It also leaves an impression that their work is important in understanding what Pamuk wants to say about Istanbul, and that he is not merely name-dropping.
- I liked the idea of Istanbul as a meeting place of the west and the east - it's not a new idea, but it's explored really beautifully in this book. What I find dubious is that this meeting of the west and the east is supposed to have formed a uniform, shared character of the inhabitants of Istanbul. However, when Pamuk stops generalising to talk about individual 'Istanbullus', it is quite powerful. Some excellent memories from his household here (for example, how dining rooms were left unused in the households that saw themselves as western, with the family eating sitting cross-legged on a carpet in a different room).