We’re number 19!

Loyal readers!  I’m completely thrilled to relate that, thanks to your support, The Possessed made it to #19 on the New York Times best sellers list for paperback nonfiction, right below No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels!  I’m so happy and honored to learn that the American people are only slightly less interested in my harrowing undercover journey to the inner circles of graduate school as they are in the significantly more harrowing journey of Agent Dobyns!  Thanks to all of you, including my new friend T. Mercer!

52_52_Hells-Angel-Standing-POPUP 481px-Dostoevsky_1872
Hells Angel
photograph by Paul Ryan
Fedor Dostoevsky
painting by Vasily Perov

A special premium shout-out is due to all the hedge fund managers who shelled out the extra $$ to shop locally: as a result, The Possessed came in at #14 onthe NPR independent best sellers  list, trailing just two titles after Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.

And, speaking of independent bookstores and vodka, many thanks to City Lights, for hosting the wonderful vodka martini book launch last Wednesday. Attendees included super-philanthropost Adam Tolnay, enabler of the great scene of cross-cultural exchange narrated in the introductory essay of The Possessed, wherein I am called upon, in my capacity as an English teacher at a Hungarian children’s camp, to judge an adolescent boys’ leg contest. What an amazing stroke of luck that Adam, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 15 years, happened to be in town for a conference on Papua New Guinea, the beautiful island nation that he is currently supplying with American students for the purpose of Education, Empowerment, and Exchange, which I imagine as one long series of judging leg contests!

Also in noteworthy attendance was the C-list writer and B+-list translator Damion Searls, who gallantly recited a Daniil Kharms story on demand during the Q/A, and whose recent story collection, What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going, not only disproves all the horrible things I have said over the years about the contemporary short story, but also features a cameo appearance by a two-foot-tall wooden Pushkin who advises the narrator on important life issues.  In this way What We Were Doing is similar to The Possessed, the narrator of which also makes some life decisions based on ideas ascribed to Pushkin.  Searls’s version of this age-old story may not actually contain an adolescent boys’ leg contest, but it is still warmly recommended to all my dear readers, especially to everyone who wrote to me that they have The Possessed in their Amazon shopping cart but can’t check out until they spend another $14.80 and qualify for free Super-Saver Shipping.

I know what you are saying to yourselves.  “You rat!  That book you recommended only costs $10.36, meaning I still have to spend $4.44 to get my free shipping!”  So OK, you got me. But fortunately, I have some more recommendations.  Discriminating readers!  If you liked “Babel in California,” you definitely need to own both the Norton Critical Edition of Babel’s Selected Writings, edited by Gregory Freidin, and The Enigma of Isaac Babel: Biography, History, Context (not to be confused with Enigma, the novel by Robert Harris).

The Norton Critical Babel unites for the first time, in one lightweight and affordable English-language paperback volume, all of Babel’s essential writings, plus selected letters, plus contemporary reminisces (many appearing in English for the first time), plus fabulous critical essays by the likes of Viktor Shklovsky and Gregory Freidin.  Still more fabulous critical essays can be found in Enigma, which contains all the excellent papers given at the 2004 Stanford Babel conference, including Freidin’s magisterial “The Other Babel”—plus, as a wonderful bonus, my own one and only academic publication (”Pan Pisar’: Clerkship in Babel’s First-Person Narration”).  Read it and mourn the loss to the academy!


That’s all for now, because I have to go find a Ziplock bag to put my toothpaste in so I can go to Los Angeles.  I hope to see some of you at the LAPL Central Library on Wednesday at 7!

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7 Responses to “We’re number 19!”

  1. SW Foska Says:

    Congratulations Elif! That’s too bad about being outpriced by Brita filters though. However, I thought of a solution. Why not get FSG to make your book convertible into a Brita filter once read? That would surely assuage your new friend T. Mercer’s ecological scruples, as well as win you countless sales in hitherto unplumbed segments of the market…

  2. xuewei Says:

    The New York Times, book review said: She describes feeling “deeply, viscerally bored” by an Orhan Pamuk novel.

    Could you tell me which one it was?

  3. xuewei Says:

    got it,“ I was unable to finish Pamuk’s Snow,” :)

  4. Elif Says:

    Actually that passage from The Possessed (it’s in “Summer in Samarkand”) refers to Black Book—I think the remark about Snow was from an unrelated interview. (I liked the beginning of Snow but got stuck after about 150 pages. With Black Book I didn’t like the beginning, either.) For the record, I have somewhat more positive feelings about Orhan Pamuk now than when I wrote “Summer in Samarkand”—his novels are still definitely not my cup of tea, but at some point, I think in 2008, I heard him give a talk at Stanford where he said some really interesting and smart things about literature, and particularly the novel. So, My Life and Thoughts officially no longer holds the position that Orhan Pamuk is a bad guy.

  5. Robin Says:

    I think The New Life and My Name Is Red are better places to start for anyone interested in trying some Pamuk (although I enjoyed The Black Book and Snow, too, so perhaps I am not a good test case).

    Congratulations on your spot on the NYT list, Elif, I loved The Possessed and hope it keeps making its way up!

  6. Mary Says:

    A solution to not ordering extra things to have free shipping is to buy your book for the Kindle, which I just did, only narrowly escaping an accidental click on Possessed: the True Story of an Exorcism. Whew!

  7. Beards V. Beards Says:

    [...] As it turns out, deadly bearded men on motorcysles are only slightly more popular in this country than dead bearded men with pens. Elif Batuman explains here. [...]

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