My Turkish Library – Orhan Pamuk

I regret that I have not been able to shake off the enlightenment utilitarian idea that books exist to prepare us for life. Perhaps this is because a writer’s life in Turkey is proof that they are. But it also has something to do with the fact that in those days Turkey lacked the sort of large library where you could easily locate any book you wanted. In Borges’s imaginary library, every book takes on a mystical aspect, and the library itself offers intimations of a poetic and metaphysical infinity, echoing the complexity of the world outside; behind this dream are real libraries with more books than can ever be counted or read. Borges was the director of one such library in Buenos Aires. But when I was young there was no comparable library in Istanbul or all of Turkey. As for books in foreign languages, not a single public library had these. If I wanted to learn everything that there was to be learned, and become a wise person and so escape the constraints of the national literature—imposed by the literary cliques and literary diplomacy, and enforced by stifling prohibitions—I was going to have to build my own great library.

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