Monday, December 8, 2008

Pamuk and Amazon

We enter a to-be common realm: Amazon reviewers.

A few months ago, I read "The Black Book" by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. It was favorably reviewed on Amazon and I checked it out from the library, thinking, "I'm interested in Turkey. I like stories. What can go wrong?" Well, "The Black Book" proved to be a disappointment. While filled to the brim with stories, the main plot wasn't so hot, the end was kind of random, and the entire story dragged on for about 300 pages too long. It could have served great as a short story (well written, interesting idea...), but as a novel, there were too many stories within stories within... You catch my drift.

But I like giving second chances. I do. So when I saw novel "Snow" on sale for cheap, I bought it. I read it. I liked it. The story too had slow moments, was at times awkwardly pretentious (probably the translation, though), but in the end managed to excite me, delight me, and keep me reading, a grand improvement over "The Black Book". I finished reading it, pleased that I had given Pamuk a second chance.

And yet Amazon seems to disagree with me. Again. Fellow reviewers bash the book as "drawn straight from the headlines", as though writing about relevant subjects is suddenly a bad thing. Quite a few feel that the book is boring. Their right, I suppose, even if I don't agree. Some say the writing style isn't for them. Also understandable. But then this:

Did they like it because they're supposed to like it?
Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? Another wrote:
...his acclaim and yes, even his Nobel prize, have more to do with his subject matter than with the quality of his writing...
At this point I nearly gave up. Because who are we, pathetic amateur reviewers, to say if a person should have won a Nobel Prize, to say casually dismiss a writer and readers who enjoy his novels as liking it "because [we're] supposed to"? Yes, I will not mask the fact that there are probably readers out there who, in order to make themselves appear educated, say they like books they don't, and no, I will also not pretend that I wasn't originally interested in Pamuk because of the little circle on the cover, but that claim, which I have seen in many places and warrants its own official complaint, is completely wrong and unfair to readers who like it simply, perhaps, because the story is interesting (yeah, the subject is cool!) or because the writing style is kind of neat.

Mr. Pamuk has clearly split readers pretty evenly. He's got those who find his writing tedious, pretentious, long, and all-in-all terrible and he has those who find his writing to be fascinating accounts of Turkey, eye-opening, lyrical, and all-in-all wonderful. And then he has me, who seems to be at odds with the greater community no matter what.

Oh, literature. No subject rivals you.

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