What were once 5,000-word essays have been distilled down into 500-word blog posts, which in turn are compacted into pithy statements of 140 characters.

What can be said in 140 characters?

This sentence, for instance, is exactly 140 characters long, which you can see, ladies, isn’t nearly enough space to essay much of a theory.

It is easy to spend all day long snacking on these tidbits: tweets, headlines, sub-headlines, extracts, summaries, stock reports, recommendations, scrolling tickers. Everything is atomized, loosely connected, hyperlinked. And, at times, it feels like strolling around a bougie supermarket and filling up on samples without ever taking the time to cook a meal. Faced with the entire world in front of me, I often feel that I only have enough time to read a single sentence about every story. Wanting to keep in touch with friends on every corner of the globe, I feel compelled to know something about everything, to have some sort of input for every conversation.

gv book challenge

But sometimes it is necessary to step out of the stream, to spend an entire week or month on just one story. Right now Global Voices is hosting a book challenge to commemorate UNESCO’s World Book Day on April 23.

The Global Voices Book Challenge is as follows:

1) Read a book during the next month from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before.
2) Write a blog post about it during the week of April 23.
3) Tag your posts with #gvbook09 so we can find your posts.

I’ve never read anything by a Turkish author before; so tomorrow I am going to start reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. Pamuk won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature — the first Nobel Prize awarded to a Turkish citizen. In 2005 a criminal case was opened against Pamuk in Turkey for statements he made in a Swiss magazine about the alleged Turkish massacres of Kurds and Armenians. Pamuk’s case was taken up by fellow writers advocating for freedom of speech and, more controversially, became a litmus test for Turkey’s entrance into the European Union.

Back in December 2005, when the criminal case against Pamuk was becoming a major blip on the international news radar, Erkan Saka, a Turkish graduate student of anthropology at Rice University, made this observation:

It is a pity that literary contributions of Pamuk remains limited in Turkish public. It is surprising to see that anti-Pamuk front has a wide range of membership. I resist to comment on his recent political manouvres, some of which are annoying if i have to state, but i need to underline how important he is in my own reading tastes. When I first began to read his novels, I finally had confidence to think that there could be ‘good’ Turkish novelists. Of course, there are many and I eventually discovered others but this does not overshadow Pamuk’s significance in the history of Turkish novel.

I am looking forward to finally getting a taste of Pamuk’s writing style, and also to reminiscing about Istanbul, which I first visited – albeit to briefly – back in 2002. I had an unused return ticket to Istanbul in 2003. My plan was to move there, find an apartment, and teach English. Instead I moved to Mexico where, coincidentally, I fly to tomorrow.

If you participate in the GV Book Challenge let me know – I’d be curious to hear what you chose to read. And if you need a recommendation, try leaving a comment on the Global Voices announcement post. I also recommend Words Without Borders, The World in Words podcast, and the International Literary Quarterly.