Thursday, September 23, 2010

"In the library I felt better..."

Words seldom fail to impress me.

I used to think there was something magical in the way that two strangers stared at each other for a split second as they passed each by on the street. Not knowing anything about their separate lives, about how their days commenced, or what they ate for lunch, two people can nevertheless share a moment right there on the busy sidewalk. Their emotions communicate, without any words or niceties, through a temporary tunnel vision that connect the two random people from among the crowds. That's why it's wonderful to take evening walks in the city. For chance encounters.

Today, I realized that there's something equally magical about the way random words speak to you as your browse books in a bookstore. I like to think that just as two people do not always need words to communicate, somehow words don't always need to be uttered in order to share something with you.

Vintage Books (my favorite darling) has launched a new paperback series called Vintage♥Film, which features fiction adapted into popular cinema. On each plain glossy white bookcover, there's a memorable quote from the novels in thematic fonts.

I think there's a stunning statement in this particular design. First, in what ways do we judge a book by its cover? What happens when the cover is made from the material from "within" the book itself? The book, in its physical form, is in fact also a cover, an object of desire, a product of design. It is always judged by the cover. Two different editions of the same book are never the same. They "touch" different, and although the difference may perhaps be a bit too subtle to make masterpieces out of complete bullshit, low quality paper and inappropriate font size can turn an otherwise enjoyable read into utter anguish.

The Vintage♥Film concept is also really interesting because it features classic works that make their way into ordinary minds and everyday lives by means of mass media and popular cinema. For instance, how many people have read or dreaded to read French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles? On the other hand, how many remember Meryl Streep's breathtaking performance in the 1981 movie? And how many people associate Fight Club with the name of Chuck Palahniuk instead of Brad Pitt or Edward Norton? This concept is overall a new and creative way to approach the easy "read the book first, watch the movie later" cliché, as it adds a curious twist of chicken/egg dilemma to that literary taboo.

But I liked these books in the new series particularly because they also pinpoint the contemporary chain (mega)bookstore experience, to the dark side of the Barnes&Noble. (I will boldly risk being hypocritical with the levels of my nostalgia here, as I know the cynical mind will question whether I use a fountain pen instead a keyboard as I write these words.) In the contemporary book-buying experience, the immaculate connection between the person and the random words from books in dusty uncategorized shelves is strained. The experience is now turned into one between a successfully or unsuccessfully advertized product and its potential buyer. (They put "bestsellers" next to the cash register, for godssake, as if the books are packs of gum - and those bestsellers may as well be.) Words now need images, advertisements, and NYT tributes to sell themselves, much less share something on the spot with the hungry mind, with cheap disturbing jazz tunes jazzing away in the background.

I picked up Death in Venice, sixth book in the series, Thomas Mann's famous novella, and Visconti's 1971 film - an excerpt of which we read and watched in Sociology of Fine Arts and Music a couple of years ago. The book in its conceptual form, with its certain dark persona, already spoke to me through the title on its binding, as it also took a detour through my personal memories.

The quote on the cover, written in a deadly Catholic font, read:

"This was love at first sight, love everlasting. A feeling unknown, unhoped for..."

I tuned to a random page, to a random sentence: "It was not a bad choice of place."

At the top of the page, the single sentence in the first paragraph: "At that time I was twenty five years old."

It may seem silly and awkward and meaningless, and there may even be a cognitive explanation for this. I know all that. But at that time, I also happened to be 25 and constantly pondering whether this city was liveable at all. It was this exact thought that drove me to the fifth floor of that "media and bookstore" today - "I'm 25 and (still) in Ankara" - and by sheer chance, to that particular book and that random page.

I was, and continue to be, fascinated with the way these two sentences, from a novella and film dear to one of our most precious philosopher/professors, enabled me to take a retrospective look on my horrible day at work, and how by looking back I pieced together the senseless tasteless desperate experiences... And voila! My day turned into an all too familiar short story. Lonely girl meets great fiction, happily walks back home on a rainy evening, deep in thought, her heart swelled with hope. (Mellow indie music in the background.)

"In the library I felt better, words you could trust and look at till you understood them, they couldn't change half way through a sentence like people, so it was easier to spot a lie." (Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit)

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