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LPT Symbol Reviews of Best Books about Turkish (and Turkey)

Is there anything more riveting than a scandalous tell-all book review...?
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Books in Review
Turkish Reflections...
An Elementary Turkish Language Text...
Turkish Food, Good Eats......
Culture Shock...
Harem Nights...
Istanbul Guide (with shiny pages)...
Language Learner...
Turkey -- Lonely Planet travel...
Ancient Civilizations and Ruins...

Istanbul -- Everyman Guides
Istanbul and Northwest Turkey
organized by Demir Onger and numerous contributors

They say Istanbul is home to some of the world's greatest architectural treasures and we think our resident reviewer agrees. But who'd know by the way she starts this review...

OK, so maybe you wouldn't judge a travel guidebook by a recipe. And my only justification for doing so was that I was trying to find something to "trash" about this book... (But I even failed at that because the recipe for Chicken with Apricots and Almonds on page 70, is fantastic and the directions are all perfect.)

The blurb on the jacket says there are more than 2,000 illustrations in this slimline book. I haven't personally counted them all, but, for a book that can easily fit into the side pocket of your touring coat, there are an incredible number of pictures in it!

When friends come to visit me, it is always the first book they grab if they haven't been to Istanbul yet. It's probably because the pictures are so lush. The beautiful building facades, street scenes, famous landmarks interspersed with excellent illustrations and copies of art; mostly in color, but many old black and white photographs of the city too. And there are maps of the old town and "walking plan" maps with suggested itineraries. Cool.

Every page is visually stimulating, and the information is encyclopedic. Information on the birds, rocks, animals, plants, and fish are presented along with the history, language, culture, art, architecture and cuisine.

And the page layout is clever too. For instance, in the sightseeing section there are attractive information bars on the side that give you further bits of trivia/information relating to history, art, biographical information, or any one of a number of interesting tangential subjects relating to the sights then being described.

As for the "useful information" section at the back, I have personally stayed in several pensions and hotels based on the recommendation in the book and been very happy with them. I have also eaten in the restaurants recommended by the book, and enjoyed the meals.

In addition, it has a very complete bibliography; a list of illustrations (giving information and the source of the drawing/photo/maps, etc.) from each page; and there's a glossary; and a page of useful phrases. The Index is divided into 2 sections: a complete index, and a thematic index...So, if you just want to find the 'towers' or only the 'mosques'... then simply check the thematic index, under those headings.

This book could serve two purposes when your return home from your Istanbul (and environs) excursion. It could be used to help your children write a school project paper about Istanbul and Turkey or it could just be kept as a lovely souvenir to help you remember what a marvelous, timelessly beautiful city Istanbul is.

I recommend it completely...unless, you prefer to visit a city with no travel guides... Then this one would be wasted on you.

The only other thing I can caution you about is that it has shiny pages...Some people don't LIKE shiny pages...
JS (April '97)

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How to Be a More Successful Language Learner:
Toward Learner Autonomy
by Joan Rubin, Irene Thompson

Our resident reviewer is back --- showing all of her usual restraint and polished prose style. We had hoped to persuade her to be more candid in this review, but she's just too damned shy. Pity really. There's more to her than meets the eye, we think. Anyway, SURPRISE !... she likes this book and asks...

Confounded by despair at "ever" being able to learn to speak a foreign language?

Dreading the yawning boredom of reading grammar-- in someone else's language (much less trying to remember your own)!?!

Developing a migraine at the thought of spending hours listening to cassettes of babble?

Been there. Done that.

Of course that's what makes this book so great. It's so perfect at poking holes in all your excuses! The authors both believe that any idiot can learn a foreign language by first, chucking some myths...
"I'm too old to learn a new language...(whine)";
"Ah-Ha!!, I'm too dumb to learn a foreign language..."; and of course the ever popular,
"Uhhh, the teacher sucks...the dog ate my homework...THE BOOK IS IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE! (whimper)."

They believe (based on an impressive set of credentials both authors have chalked up) that there is no stereotypical profile of a language learner. Instead, there are individual "traits" that contribute to success...and *many* different ways to learn a language. Fortunately they elaborate on all the traits and learning styles.

There is also a terrific section on learning strategies. Things like "Learn to live with uncertainty", "Use mnemonics", "Make errors work", "Let context help you" or my favorite..."Learn to make intelligent guesses"...And a section that tells you how to evaluate a language learning program, to better select one that suits your style of learning.

This is an extraordinarily encouraging book, even for someone who has not successfully learned a language that they have attempted to plod though. Speaking from personal experience, learning Turkish is not a walk in the park. Mostly after being here for over three years, I find myself hideously embarrassed by my "Tonto-Turkish" involving lots of facial expressions, frantic hand movements and the abundant use of infinitives...

In re-reading this book, I was struck by a learning style that I used successfully and then dropped... Seems that in spite of my embarrassment, I had actually achieved the objectives I originally set out for myself !!

The good news is that my language abilities will improve proportionately to my renewing and revising my objectives... in other words, according to this book, it's time to raise the bar!

Drawbacks - By the way, the only things I can think of as drawbacks of the book are its price (for 109 pages), and its lack of any index. JS (March '97)
[Ed. "Only" drawbacks she says? Ouch! That works out to 25 cents a gold-plated page -- and there's no index either...? Hmmm...Still. Everything else about it sounds so good...hmmm. Don't run off yet -- I'm thinkin', I'm thinkin'...]

To book buying details...

Turkey: a Lonely Planet travel survival kit
by Tom Brosnahan and Pat Yale

Our reviewer (who hails from the e. e. cummings school of writing) gives it a 9.9 and says that T:LP...is the best travel guide i have found (so far) for the country. the 4th edition has been my companion on many an excursion all across the country and has been quite useful in getting from point 'a' to point 'b' and finding someplace to sleep and eat at both points.

(one of the neat features of the lonely planet guides is a listing of english language bookstores wherever they appear and you happen to be... I was in Barcelona at Christmas and hauled back some used books from "Come In", a great bookstore that has both new and used books.)

BTW, there is a nice condensed LP for Western Europe and another one for Mediterranean Europe - (that one includes Turkey).

Drawback - These books are FAT and weigh a ton.
On my desk amid several hundred other things is a paperback copy of the Random House Dictionary, next to it is the paperback LP Western Europe... guess which one is fatter. if you picked the dictionary you would be wrong... the problem with a FAT book is that it doesn't fit into your pocket. Well, it does if you have large pockets... but people look at you really funny... this is an exceptionally disgusting drawback when you need the bloody thing because it lists the metro stops of the destinations you choose to visit. Of course, it doesn't bother people who are organized and write things down on little pieces of paper or are not dealing with any of the stages and symptoms of alzheimer's...JS (January '97)

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Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey
by Ord. Prof. Dr. Ekrem Akurgal

Our reviewer wears basic black and a string of cultured pearls to this review. Ya' know, we've alluded to her serious side before, but no one has paid any attention to us. Up 'til now, that is. So, give a listen when she says...

First of all, this book is not a travel guide. It doesn't tell you how to get from here to there or where to eat in between. There is no information on distances or how long an "excursion" to a site should take. This is a book you read if you decide to spend some time in Turkey.

And, it has been my companion at 60 of the 123 sites listed in the Table of Contents.

For best results, I recommend you read it just before you get to the site you intend to explore. There are many small bits of information that are hard to assimilate while walking into holes and around bushes (personally, I was reading it at Termessos and almost fell into a cistern...).

This classic guide is an accumulation of forty years of scholarship. And Professor Akurgal presents an incredible amount of information in his small hardcover book.

For most Western readers, though, the layout of the book is a little disconcerting. Forget the 'Table of Contents', and the 'Index' -- they both need 'major surgery'. I mean, if you know the name of a site, or you are visiting and want to look it up, fine. But search tools are not the strength of this book...

Imagine instead, starting around Troy and driving down the coast, stopping at every one of those yellow arrows that point to an archaeological site. Your trip would go down as far as Phaselis just outside of Antalya. Then you would go up into the interior of Turkey to Aizanoi south west of Kütahya. You would continue on up to Ankara and then the central plains through Bogazköy (the ruins of Hattusa) and down to Kültepe near Kayseri. The last part of the book then brings you back to the coast and you follow the southern path through Antalya to Antakya. There is a finale of sorts that takes you to Nemrud Dag in the Kommagene.

The strength of this book is the site information. And with patience and interest you can pull an astonishing amount of information together from each site description. For many sites (not all) there are detailed layout maps. For some sites there are "reconstructions" drawn to show what the city looked like during different time periods in history. For other sites there are lovely drawings of details of buildings; or statues of people or animals; or just motifs on columns or parts of buildings.

The photographic plates tie in to descriptions of the sites. Each plate is not just a postcard of "Beautiful Turkey", but provides a specific shot of information discussed in the text. About one-fifth of them are in color, the rest are black and white.

There is also a description of the important museums in Turkey and what is in them. This is nice if you find yourself in, say, Afyon. The museum there is one of the most important of Turkey. Excellent Bronze and Iron Age finds are there, as well as archaic Greek and Lydian pottery.

For added interest, there's even information about where you can find the statuary and 'other objects' that have been "removed" from the sites -- if they are not still in Turkey (e.g., the museums of Berlin, London, Paris).

Unfortunately this leads us to some of the book's drawbacks. The page listed in the Index for the Afyon Museum is not the page it really is on... The index says 292, but it's really on page 270. Normally this would drive me crazy, but I so enjoy the information at each site that I forgive the book it's failings each time I stumble on them. Still there are a few, and for the cost, one wishes for perfection I suppose...

A lot of people own this book and everyone nods quite seriously when referring to its "classic" status. Still, I don't think all of them have scoped out its eccentric little foibles. So, if you just want general site information with some simple highlights, you'll probably be satisfied with the 'standard' guidebooks available most anywhere. But, if you love archaeology and you enjoy the 'bits and pieces' of information, as much as the 'bits and pieces' in museums, then you will love this book. JS (March '97)

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