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Every Young Writer Should Read Elif Batuman

By on July 3, 2022 0

If you read the blurb on the back of Elif Batuman’s 2017 debut novel, “The idiot,“, you will see the book described as” a heroic calculation but erased with the terror and the joy of becoming a person in a world as intoxicating as it is disturbing. I’d like to meet whoever wrote this surprisingly lucid but suitably vague description and congratulate him on capturing such an elusive story so perfectly. Batuman wrote a novel that is not easy to pin down.

Set in 1995, “The Idiot” follows Selin, a smart Turkish American, through her first year of experience at Harvard and abroad. Its loose, almost quiet plot largely revolves around Selin’s unusual relationship with a Hungarian student, a senior named Ivan. The pair exchange emails containing some of the weirdest ideas and phrases I’ve ever encountered in fiction, so absurd I wondered how Batuman came up with them.

Whether or,The sequel, which picks up almost where we left off with ‘The Idiot,’ finds Selin navigating her sophomore year at Harvard. what she thought she knew about him Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on your perspective – the sequel features a lot less Ivan and a more invigorating cast of characters, though Ivan is still very much mentally present in life In a scene that shows Batuman’s dark humor particularly well, a depressed Selin lies in bed, skipping class to wallow on Ivan and listen objectively to the best album of the occasion: Fiona’s album. Apple”Tide.“It’s good to see that despite our heroine’s cerebral personality, she’s still a teenager after all.

Odd, possibly romantic emails aside, the novel and its sequel are mostly Selin’s ponderous monologues and musings. Without getting too heady, Batuman smoothly weaves together deep linguistic concepts and literature as texts for Selin to read for the class. These works include everything from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the Russian classics, which she always dutifully questions: “Why did Nina have to look into Leonid’s eyes, rather than the telescope? How did Leonid solve anything? Why did every story have to end with a wedding?

Almost every page contains questions like these, useful simply for being asked in the first place and not for the answers you might find. Selin is perhaps the most introspective and inquisitive narrator in contemporary fiction, and that’s what makes her so larger than life and so admirable. While reading “Either/Either”, I noticed that no matter how ignorant, rude or pompous the person she is talking to, Selin always considers what she has to say, carefully questioning her words and her reaction. Often, she ends up dismissing their thoughts, but only after giving them a chance. How many of us can say that we take the time and effort to embody this practice? Certainly not many – including me. It’s not necessarily a show of trust in everyone, but rather a way of treating everyone as if their words might have some merit no matter what.

This intellectual nobility (a trait I had never seen before in a fictional character) was kind of a wake-up call for me. Selin helped me realize that the life of someone dedicated to writing isn’t just about sitting down to type out a few words, string them into a story, and call it a day. It involves almost every aspect of your interactions with the world and with yourself. You need to cultivate habits that can help you to think about and notice the little things in your life, to listen eagerly and openly.

Of course, there isn’t just one way to be a writer, just like there isn’t just one way to be an engineer, teacher, or painter. The life of the writer depends on the individual. But Selin made me think about what kind of writer I want to be and how I can start being them. Throughout her travels, she leads readers to deepen themselves, to cultivate a sense of wonder that is essential to any writer. Batuman encourages them to marvel at the absurdities, quirks and charm of people around the world, whether they are in the Hungarian countryside or in Harvard Square. His adventures in these two novels are particularly instructive and exciting for budding young writers who are still at the beginning of the process of finding their personal corner of the world.

‘Ou/Ou’, released in May this year, gave me the words to describe something I’ve wanted to embody since I was younger, without knowing exactly what it was: ‘aesthetic life’ . Selin learns this term from theWhether or,» a philosophical work that she finds at the beginning of the sequel. In a scene that I’m not sure I’ll ever forget, Selin picks up this book from a bookstore by chance: “’So either you live aesthetically or you live ethically.’ My heart was beating. Was there a book about it? (That scene seems a little funny to me now, since Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or” was downright impossible to find in every bookstore I went to.)

From then on, this notion of “aesthetic life” (more of a subjective sensibility than a rigid term) informs much of Selin’s thoughts and reflections within “Or/Ou”. She is able to identify with this somewhat romantic worldview, although it seems to have disintegrated into a mere relic of classic novels over the last century or so. But thankfully, Batuman brings it back to life, answering the calls of every young writer or artist who, like me, retreats into the world of aesthetics when it all gets too much. She writes for those who dream of traveling to new places, meeting strange and fascinating people, jotting down anecdotes in a small notebook and writing stories at night.

For anyone who has indulged in these ideas, aspiring to live freely and lightly Selin’s way, her odyssey will revitalize you, move you, and inspire you to rethink the way you live each day. I know that after finishing “The Idiot” and “Either/Or,” I hesitated every time I was about to jump to judgment on something or pick up my phone when I didn’t need it. Selin inspired me to question my own actions and thoughts before letting them define me; every writer should at least consider this mode of being as a personal practice.

I can’t guarantee that everyone, including the writers, will appreciate Selin’s introspective tendencies or relate to her inquisition of the world around her. Even I found his questions a little too incessant at times. From time to time, I wondered, “Is this person turning his brain stopped?But Batuman has created an intellectual heroine, someone who strives above all to understand and experience the world in which she has been thrust. That’s why she’s so captivating – and why there’s so much to learn from her.