NEWS

Book shops part of revitalization enlivening old center of the city

All the American and European writers seem to be represented on the shelves with works of literature translated into Turkish. «For some strange reason,» said Aysen Salcan, founder of the Homer bookstore, «the books of Paul Auster are immensely popular in Turkey, and [the translations] are published at the same time as the English-language editions.» Since bookstores like these are flourishing, Turks may indeed be reading more books. However, that does not mean Turks in general are big readers. In parts of Istanbul with a European character, there are other modern bookstores, like the Patika in Kusadasi, or the P&P in Bebek on the Bosporus. But in the old center of Istanbul – the equivalent of Syntagma and Omonia squares in Athens rather than of Kifissia or Kolonaki – the changes that have taken place in the city’s bookstores in the past few years is impressive. Though you won’t see the multi-story bookstores that have appeared in Athens, the new generation of book shops has style and, above all, substance. One can still find the old stores that carry lots of titles in the same area, such as the Eren store on Sofyali Sokak, which has become a popular street for bars and restaurants. Not far away is a book shop run by the Cohen brothers. In the window are French editions dating back to the 1960s. Back in the 21st century, one gets a strong impression that part of the new Istanbul is moving ahead. «The crisis in 2000 hit all branches of the trade, but now there is a recovery,» said Seda Ates, the young manager of Robinson Crusoe, which has a window looking onto the pedestrian zone of Istiklal. «Now there are more publishing houses and the trend is growing.» There are sharps contrasts, as everywhere in Turkey. There are the pirated editions which plague the market and small groups catering to highly specialized interests. For Ates, the book market cannot be examined separately from the art market, which is also flourishing. «Last year at the Biennale in Istanbul we sold a lot of art books, and we order many art titles so as to have stocks during international festivals,» Ates said. «Our shelves must be up to date.» Quantities of quality For Aysen Salcan of Homer, it was a great challenge. «I started to sell English-language titles at cost price,» Salcan said. «If I hadn’t, my customers would have got them from Amazon. I raised the price of the books and sold quality in large quantities.» Salcan is an archaeologist and her bookstore, which is also a publishing company, specializes in archaeology, philosophy, history and photography. Books from university presses in Britain and the US and large-format illustrated volumes sit alongside titles aimed at the general reader. «Our American colleagues said we were among the most up-to-date bookstores in Europe in terms of our range,» she said. In Turkey the Yapi Kredi mortgage bank played a crucial role when in 1991 she inaugurated a series of high-quality editions. «Until then there was not a lot of interest in the design of the book,» said Salcan. The size of print runs compared with European standards indicate that interest is still limited. A novel translated into Turkish will come out in an edition of 1,000 copies, but there is a wide range of titles. And, as Ece Dalki of Pandora bookstore noted, «more and more Turks are getting into the habit of reading on public transport.» The Robinson Crusoe store has a database of 170,000 titles and 75,000 titles on its shelves. Salcan professes herself to be optimistic about the future of the book trade. Like most stores in downtown Istanbul, bookstores started opening on Sundays two years ago, from noon to 7.30 p.m. During the week they stay open until 10 p.m. «On Sundays we get different customers – tourists and general readers,» Salcan said. «We sell large illustrated volumes, cookbooks and children’s books.» Specialization is in the nature of the book-selling trade. «We have a customer list with 600 names. We managed to increase it by publishing many books,» she explained. The Homer, which got its name from the owner’s love for the world of antiquity, is in an alleyway that runs off Istiklal, diagonally opposite the Galatasaray Lyceum, past the post office. The bookstore covers a small area on the ground floor and basement, but the atmosphere more than compensates. The Pandora, which is closest to Taxim, was one of the first bookstores in Turkey to go online (www.pandora. co.tr). Homer soon followed suit (www. homerbooks.com). All three stores sell books mainly in English, in an echo of Istanbul’s former cosmopolitanism and a forerunner of the new city’s emerging image. If you happen to be in the area and are keen on old books, have a look at Denizler, near Robinson Crusoe, which has a superb collection of fine editions. Books are not cheap in Turkey. A good quality hardcover illustrated volume costs 50-60 euros. Cheaper books are available at other stores on Istiklal that have a much smaller range. Despite this, the new bookstores of Istanbul are impressive enough to hold their own with their counterparts in any major city in the West.