Posts Tagged ‘Elif’s mom’


Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I was so honored earlier this month to receive the first annual Terry Southern Prize for Humor from the Paris Review (for a five-installment blog post titled My Twelve-Hour Blind Date with Dostoevsky). Sadly, I was unable to accept the award in person at the Paris Review Revel, which coincided with the UK launch of The Possessed.  This caused a few small logistical problems, the subject of some correspondence I share with you today, between myself and Paris Review super-editor Lorin Stein.


1. Stein to Batuman:

…Would you like to write a short (like, three sentence or whatever) acceptance note for me to read at the Revel?… Also: do you want your two-foot mahogany B52 sent to you in Istanbul, or shall we store it? I was thinking Nile Southern would probably be happy to give it a temporary home till you get back. But maybe you want it to look at—for inspiration???.


2. Batuman to Stein:

…re: b52, i don’t think i could be any more inspired in its physical presence than i already am by the powerful idea, thank you. if the object could be placed in storage, either with nile southern or even less illustriously, that would be wonderful – alternatively it could be sent care of my mother.  whichever is least trouble.


3. Stein to Batuman:

We will totally deliver the plane to your moms!!!


4. Batuman’s mom, to Batuman (in response to a request to accommodate what I still somehow naively believed to be a “B52-sized plaque of some kind”):

I am now really apprehensive about the b52 (joke), will it be the size of the painting of the bull in Holland or even grander??


5. Stein to Batuman (after the Revel):

…In the end I wasn’t able to read your wonderful letter because [names redacted] went way over their allotted time slots.1 BUT I did manage to work in the shout-out to Fyodor. Now, will you please give me your mom’s address (does she have a doorman?)?…

…I’m sorry that your mother is soon going to have a large model of a B52 “flying fortress” in her living room…


6. Batuman to Stein:

“flying fortress” is a joke, right?

7. Stein to Batuman:

One sort of B52 was called the “flying fortress” – but I think maybe that one wasn’t outfitted with bombs. Yours is outfitted with bombs.


  1. My acceptance letter: “Dear friends of the Paris Review, I am so happy and honored to be addressing you tonight.  I really wish I could be here in person, but right now I am hopefully asleep, because it must be around two in the morning in London, where I am promoting my book, The Possessed.  The immortal novel by Dostoevsky, translated alternately as The Possessed and The Demons, has brought me to so many wonderful places, including a hilarious twelve-hour performance on Governor’s Island.  I didn’t have to do anything to be so funny about it—I just wrote down what happened. So, I would like to thank Dostoevsky.  A big thanks also to judges Sam Anderson, Chris Jackson, and Fran Lebowitz, as well as to Lorin Stein and the Paris Review—may there be many more galas, and may I be there for some of them too.”


Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Exacting readers!  In the past week I have had ample, ample cause to regret the light-minded words I recently wrote about crutches.  I’m not even talking, primarily, about SW Foska’s truly terrifying vision of a human who can use three crutches at a time – awful enough in its own right.  But still more poignant was the email I received from an esteemed colleague, to the effect that the mysterious Amazon crutch-shopper might well have been his own mother, who had recently mentioned that she was planning to purchase (a) a copy of my book as a gift for someone (thanks!), and (b) a new pair of crutches (because she just had knee surgery, from which I hope she is making a rapid and painless recovery).

It somehow hadn’t occurred to me that the person who needed crutches was someone’s mom, and especially not the mom of a writer – because let me tell you, writers’ moms have lived through enough. They deserve all our admiration and respect, not to mention some well-earned repose, and it’s a deeply saddening occasion when any one of them needs even one crutch, even for a little bit.

Oh tenderhearted readers – just imagine my feelings when the very next morning I found out that my very own mother had, like 75% of the rest of the East Coast, slipped on some ice, and now also needs crutches (albeit hopefully only for a very short time). Verily, verily, life has brought home to me the true meaning of the expression, “about as funny as a crutch.” It means, not funny at all.

I would like to take this moment to salute all the writers’ mothers, our invaluable and often invisible supporters, the ones who held up our little heads when we were too small and floppy to do it ourselves, our dear friends, readers, and advocates – ladies, without you we would be nowhere!  Please be careful on the ice!

Metonymy and Metaphor

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

The other day I went to a teahouse near Taksim with the promising young novelist/ journalist Kaya Genç.  As we sat down, Genç asked which size tea glass I wanted: a small one, or an Ajda one.

“You know Ajda, right?” he asked.

I did know Ajda (a big favorite with me and my mom), but not her tea glasses. “Does she drink a lot of tea?” I asked.

Genç explained that Ajda glasses are named for their shape – i.e., because they resemble Ajda, and not because she loves tea so much.

SES-AJDA-PEKKAN-SADRI-ALISIK-ZEKI-MUREN__14711391_0 1267973368_62511_ajda_abarda

Ajda Pekkan

Ajda tea glass

So, Turkey continues to be the place where I receive valuable lessons in metonymy versus metaphor.1


  1. This particular lesson is kind of confusing because when you look online there are like 7 competing explanations for why “large narrow-waisted tea glasses” are called Ajda, one explanation relying, in fact, upon Ajda’s insatiable thirst for tea (plus her dislike of Western-style teacups), such that she had to be supplied with extra-large glasses.  Another explanation is even graphemic: apparently there used to be glasses called Aida, only because of the typeface at some point they were misread as Ajda.

Book news

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Dear readers!  It took some time, but I finally outsmarted those turkeys and am back at my desk, just in time for the impending release of The Possessed, which you can preorder right now from Amazon for the low, low price of $10.12.  Those with concerns about my interns’ nutritional intake are particularly encouraged you to order from one of the links on this page: that way, thanks to the Amazon Associates program, we get 4% extra per copy.

That means for every copy you buy, we get $0.40: the cost of approximately 1.78 fl. oz. Ensure High Protein Complete Balanced Nutrition Drink!


THE POSSESSED slowly assumes material form

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Dear readers!  It has been a long time since I was able to update you on my life as a D-list writer.  But I’ve really had my hands full with the arduous transition to the C-list.   There are just all kinds of unexpected things you have to think about.  No sooner than you have finished wrestling with the ontological problem of the author photograph, and are looking forward to a well-earned respite from self-consciousness, than you are liable to find yourself involved in email exchanges like the following, which took place between me and my my much-admired editor at FSG:

Much-Admired Editor. “Dear Elif!!! Would you send me a photo of yourself? Let me explain!! I was talking to our head of paperback design about possible covers for your book. One idea that occurred to me was–I’d like to see a funny drawing of you, of an Elif-ish person, making her way through the words. Of course, if you think this is a bad idea, I’ll forget all about it. And if you have some idea for how the cover should look, tell me!!! My boss wants to see an Elif-ish person peering up—possessedly—from a big book. Or maybe head-down behind a big mise-en-abyme of a cover of THE POSSESSED…”

Elif (thinking to herself: “The next time I write a book it is so not going to be about my idiosyncratic and charming vision of anything). “Dear Lorin!!!  To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about a cartoonish representation of me on the cover. Aren’t I kind of a parody of myself already ?  I think the idea I had for the cover in the back of my mind was a battalion of possessed-looking matryoshki… have you ever seen a whole army of them on a table, staring at you, like something out of Hoffman?”

Editor. “…As it happens, the designer and I had already discussed matryoshka dolls. We both really liked your creepy-armies-of-matryoshkas as a visual joke; the trouble is, it doesn’t say READING. It doesn’t connote books and their pleasures, or wonderful-Elif-in-the-universe.”

Elif. “…Well, OK I guess, as long as it isn’t like one of those pages they do in the New Yorker with the author’s enormous head surrounded by weird floating apparitions…”

Editor. “…No, we weren’t thinking of that guy. More like Roz Chast!”

I thought that was a pretty good joke.  But… it wasn’t a joke!  They really got Roz Chast to do this incredibly beautiful cover!  I observe merely in passing, ain’t no Elif-ish people peering out of nowhere.