Anne Landsman is the author of the novels, The Rowing Lesson and The Devil’s Chimney, which were nominated for awards including the PEN/Hemingway and South Africa’s most prestigious literary award, the M-Net Book Prize. The Rowing Lesson was recently named to the Financial Times’s Best Fiction of 2008 list. She has written for numerous international publications, including The Washington Post, The Believer, The Guardian, and The Telegraph.
I can always tell how much I enjoyed a book by the state it’s in when I’m done with it. If many of the pages are turned back at the corners, and there are stippled lines in the margins as if sandpipers have been walking on the edges of the text and making notations, if the back page has a jumble of lines from the book, interlaced with thoughts and ideas I had while reading, then this is a book I wanted to remember, ingest, carve into my psyche. On my bookshelf this year, Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk wins the prize for most dog-eared, most written upon, most abused book of 2008. I started reading it before going to Turkey last summer and read it at every available moment during my two weeks there. I gazed at the Bosphorus through the scrim of Pamuk’s layered descriptions of this mighty river, which divides east from west. Five times a day, I listened to the muezzin’s call to prayer and thought of the Pamuk family’s ambivalence towards religion and the whole country’s wrenching relationship with it. As I walked the streets of Istanbul with my husband and two children visiting mosques, eating Turkish Delight, noticing stray dogs, dodging cars, I walked the pages of Pamuk’s Istanbul, the sandpiper treading in the clean sand of the margins.