I once picked up a copy of The New Yorker in a doctor’s office as an adolescent and was baffled, mostly because it was a magazine for adults that had comics which weren’t particularly funny. I was confused as to who the intended audience was, as well as how many people actually read the magazine, I concluded it must be kept in business by subscriptions from doctors’ offices as I picked up Sports Illustrated.
This rather uncomfortable experience didn’t stop me from pretending it was one of my favorite magazines when I met my now-girlfriend Julie last year. As I listened to Julie describe her favorite features, I realized retroactively that it was just pretentious enough to be of interest to my new-found college graduate sensibilities. A year later, I remembered those early conversations as I was pondering birthday gifts possibilities.
In the process of subscribing to the magazine I was simultaneously nonplussed and elated when I stumbled upon this podcast about Beşiktaş JK, my favorite Turkish football team. Although Beşiktaş’s fans are known for their socialist sympathies, I still failed to see The New Yorker‘s connection to football hooligans or even sports in general, I for one didn’t remember seeing any Lebron James interviews, let alone features on the Turkcell Süper Lig (although a simple search would have yielded these results).
It turns out the missing component in this equation was Elif Batuman, the Turkish-American writer who in addition to writing for The New Yorker is also the author of a best-selling book called The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Although I possess next to no knowledge of Russian literature beyond the two Dostoevesky novels I’ve read, I figured I owed Batuman for sharing Beşiktaş with the world and bought The Possessed a few days ago.
It turned out to be one of the best literary decisions I’ve made in a while- as Batuman’s prose is entertaining, witty, and very difficult to stop reading (I did at one point this weekend force myself to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather- but I didn’t want to.) The book isn’t about Russian literature nearly as much as it’s about the American graduate student experience. Batuman has to ability take the random crazy things that happen to her and weave them into a sarcastic, irony-laced narrative. This is the most fun book I’ve picked up in a long while.
Let me know if you want to borrow it.