Bookstore Blues

Here’s another all too human emotion I want to share because it might be familiar.
In a Virgin Megastore inside a recently erected Shopping Temple on Istaklal Street, Istanbul, I am browsing some books, mainly paperbacks. As the lighting is good I decide to take some pictures of the store.

Of course, the staff won’t allow me to take any photos. I switch off the camera.

I start to browse the English section and hold a dozen books in my hands. I like English sections in large foreign bookstores because the selection is normally reasonably small and restricted to items that have been “pre-approved” by Anglosaxon readers. Here are the titles I can remember:

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
  • The Tell-tale Brain by V.S.Ramachandran
  • The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
  • The biography of Steve Jobs
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The covers unanimously praise them – all of them – as one of the best books of the year or decade or whatever. I feel intimidated.
These book are all brilliant I’m sure, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m sweating. Why do books need to be “the best of the best?” or why do they need to be called that way? It’s a marketing trick. You buy only the best, the very best. Mediocrity doesn’t exist in new publications, only in books well beyond their expiration date. But these books are very mediocre, and need to be replaced by the best of the best, new-smelling grey paperbacks with shiny covers full of praise.

I am going to read some of these books, and hope to tell you about their bestness in some next article.