Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Shopping in Turkey: Istanbul

Tintin and I recently took a trip to Turkey, with 10 days of backpacking along the Lycian Way bookended by a few days in Istanbul. As you probably have guessed by reading my blog, one of my goals on any trip is to explore the local options for bookstores and book-buying.

This is part 2 of my book-buying tales. In Part 1, I described the difficulties we encountered in finding bookstores along the Lycian Way during the off season. In this one, I describe my attempt to find English translations of Turkish novels during our few days in Istanbul.

Taksim Square Area

After reading a large number of guides (here here here and here) to finding English-language books in Istanbul, I decided to look for Homer and Pandora bookstores near Taksim square. This area was everything I don't like about the big city - terribly crowded (even in the off-season!) and confusing to navigate. Even though I went armed with the names of the bookstores I wanted to check out, it was difficult to get directions from the locals; most people didn't know what I was talking about. 

Finally we made our way through the crowds to the intersection near where Homer Kitabevi was supposed to be located. It was dark, but we followed the streetlight-less road (toward the Museum of Innocence!) for a long time, but didn't find the store. When we returned the next day, it turned out that Homer had been closed and we had missed it on our first search. Although I had heard very good things about Homer's selection and was excited that they also have a publishing company, the selection did not live up to the hype. All that I found in the way of Turkish novels translated into English was the same books by Pamuk and Safak that we had been seeing, for a similarly high price. Perhaps if we had been there at a different time, we would have had a different experience. 

On the opposite side of the street from this road we found a multistory bookstore named Insan Kitap. Of all the bookstores that we visited in Turkey, Insan was the one with the best selection of Turkish novels in English. There was a whole floor of books in English and other foreign languages, with a large selection of Turkish-English translations, especially those published by Everest Publishing

We also located Pandora Books, which had recently moved down the main road and up an alley (which explained why no one knew where it was!). Pandora had a large number of English-language books, especially classics, but their translated Turkish novels were confined to a small corner bookshelf on the third floor. 

If you're in the Taksim square area, I recommend visiting Pandora and Insan Kitap, and stopping into Homer if you have time. 

The Second-Hand Book Bazaar

Tucked into a corner next to Istanbul's giant, confusing, and overwhelming (and extremely tourist-oriented) Grand Bazaar sits the Second-Hand Book Bazaar. When we asked for directions, people sent us around the perimeter of the Beyazit Mosque; it is actually nestled between the Mosque and the main part of the bazaar. 

The book bazaar seems like a fun place for the book-lover to go exploring; amongst the Turkish books, there are probably some English ones as well. We were so tired when we got there that we had no energy to do more than ask about a few specific books that were not available. Overall, it's more worth a visit than the Grand Bazaar (in my opinion). 

Museum Gift Shops

I love checking out museum gift shops, though I rarely buy anything from them. Surprisingly, the gift shops that we looked at had a fairly good collection of translated bestsellers. The prices, as always, were quite high, but not as much as we expected compared to the other bookstores. The Topkapi Palace museum shop had the best selection of books; if you're pressed for time, it might be worth buying from there. There were also a few books that were only available in museum shops, such as this beauty (which I missed my opportunity to buy). 

I hope this was helpful! Where have you found Turkish-English translated books in Istanbul? 


  1. I stayed in the old quarter and found a wonderful bookshop near Sultanahmet, the tram rolls right past it. Sorry I don't recall the name. It wass more than a bookstore, the people so freindly, one of the shop assistants was playing a traditional musical instrument with a freind and my two children were much more interested in this, so I could lok at the books while they asked about the instrument.

    The bookshop itslef had as expected lots of Shafak and Pamuk, but I asked for other local authors that had been translated and came home with Patasana by Ahmet Umit, very well known in Turkey for his mysteries and this one was great as it was set amid an archaeological dig and Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga, which was actually published in English as he left Turkey and settled in England.

    It sounds like you had a great time seeking out translated works. I have another one still to read this year, the classic The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar which has recently been republished in English.