By Edward Nawotka
In 2010, Istanbul, Turkey will serve as a European Capital of Culture, along with Essen, Germany and Pécs, Hungary. The selection gives the country an opportunity to show off its historical heritage, even if, according to Selçuk Altun — novelist and former executive chairman of YKY (Yapi Kredi Publications) — the current literary life is somewhat lacking.
“Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, was the number one cultural capital of the world from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. So really, if you think about it, the selection as European capital of culture should have come earlier,” says Altun, when reached by phone in Istanbul. “There are hundreds of Byzantine monuments that are still here and there remains much to see, but people looking for literary life may find it a challenge. There just isn’t a lot of great writing coming out of Turkey, with the exception is Pamuk and a few others. By and large, publishers don’t make quality books or real literature a priority. They go after cheap thrillers and trashy stuff.”
Altun says a number of factors contribute to the lack of a reading culture in Turkey: “We don’t encourage our children to read, there’s the high cost of books, and there’s the religious factor.” he says, adding, “According to statistics Turks read just one book a year and if this is 50% correct it is an alarming thought,” says Altun. “The total number of newspapers read in a day in this country is less than the number of a single newspaper in England.”
The problem plays itself out vividly in the publishing industry, which though while producing some 30,000 new titles each year generates just $60 million in sales. It’s a tiny sum for a country with a population of nearly 75 million people.
The result is that Turkish publishing always seems like a slightly sick patient. “Even before this global financial crisis we were already facing crisis,” says Altun. “We in the book publishing industry were always living day by day and still are.”
READ: Istanbul’s official Web site for its stint as European City of Culture