Literary Birthday – 7 June – Elif Batuman

Happy Birthday, Elif Batuman, born 7 June 1977.


  1. The novel form is about the protagonist‘s struggle to transform his arbitrary, fragmented, given experience into a narrative as meaningful as his favourite books.
  2. I didn’t care about truth; I cared about beauty. It took me many years–it took the experience of lived time–to realise that they really are the same thing.
  3. What does literature do better than anything else? It provides a detailed representation of the inner experience of being alive in a given time and place.
  4. Each work of criticism is supposed to build on the body of work, to increase the total sum of human understanding. It’s not like filling your house with more and more beautiful wicker baskets. It’s supposed to be cumulative – it believes in progress.
  5. I wanted to know how it was going to turn out, like flipping ahead in a book. I didn’t even know what kind of story it was, or what kind of role I was supposed to be playing.
  6. Even though I had a deep conviction that I was good at writing, and that in some way I already was a writer, this conviction was completely independent of my having ever written anything, or being able to imagine ever writing anything, that I thought anyone would like to read.
  7. If I could start over today, I would choose literature again. If the answers exist in the world or in the universe, I still think that’s where we’re going to find them.
  8. I think any start has to be a false start because really there’s no way to start. You just have to force yourself to sit down and turn off the quality censor. And you have to keep the censor off, or you start second-guessing every other sentence.
  9. I try really hard to cultivate the pure love of reading, to make time for it, because it would be really sad to still be a writer without remembering why, on some visceral, emotional level.
  10. In a way all writers are writing against death, because writing is an attempt to defy the passage of time, to refuse to let the past disappear and be forgotten, and to refuse to let the present become the past – to try to keep living another day, to try to talk your way into life, or seduce your way into it.

Elif Batuman is an American author, academic, and journalist. She is the author of The Idiot.

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 6th June 2018