by Owen Stafford*
Everyone knows the phrase you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well this is a very apt phrase to be utilised for discussing this book. But hang on! This phrase sometimes has negative connotations, because the cover for this book is so unique and so clever that it should give you an idea of the world and experience that lies ahead of you as you open it. When you approach a book such as this you must know this is not your conventional "run of the mill" book, nor is Çiğdem y Mirol your conventional "run of the mill" author. That is to say, MyFace Book is not just a book but a piece of biographical(?) art, Çiğdem is not just a writer but also a painter, not just an author but also an artist. Then, this is also not just a book, but also a painting; actually it’s a mosaic that shares a unique type of insight into the author’s life(?). The book’s style questions the literary and artistic genres of today. Those same genres and characteristics are re-written and re-packaged by the author, who with this book invites you to become a part of triangular relationship between author, book and reader. Hence the concept of “Bookperformance”: i.e. it’s not just a book but it’s a performance – which Çiğdem y Mirol wants you the reader to be part of. This was in evidence the day of her launch in Waterstones Brussels.
At most book launches the author reads a couple of highlights or chapters to an audience, which though entertaining it maybe, the audience doesn’t really become a part of the project. The author showcases his/her writings talents or thoughts, but the audience only reach the listening stage of the engagement. In other words they’re not a part of the work, nor are they necessarily invited to be. At the Brussels launch of MyFace Book it was quite the opposite. People, including this writer, were specifically requested to integrate with this book, via the author’s invitation to read specific certain passages with her, made all the more entertaining by the randomness with which people became engaged. Even people passing by in the shop, were stopped dead by the curiosity of what was taking place and some even joined in themselves. As the author would say they became “witnesses” to her story and work.
The visual aspect of this book is very predominant and adds to the book’s uniqueness. It presented in a manner akin to a textual installation. In the “Shall we reinvent love?” (pages 8-9) the author invites you the reader to reinvent love – whereby she offers the reader to start looking a bit deeper into life, to gain something extra personal. Are we seeking the same thing? If not then shouldn’t we be? But in today’s world of “technology, the internet and the digital stuff,” the author claims not to be well integrated into this scene. However there by choice or by force, most of the rest of the world lives and breathes these primary elements of today’s fast paced modern world, whether in our jobs or our private lives. We have changed so much that the question has to be raised: have we forgotten how to be personable and human? The author portrays this on the cover of MyFace Book with words written in a spiralling fashion, to symbolise how hyper we have become. This, which also functions as the table of content of literally “the turning scenes” of MyFace Book, is a statement holds a lot of resonance: “All of Myself: There sounds to be The Lost Author in my mind indeed there isn’t… There feels not to be The Effaced Notebook in my body, indeed there is… There seems to be The White Pencil in my hand, indeed there isn’t… ”
But many of us are in the thrust today’s hectic life – we’re self-consumed by our own affairs, our own issues and even one could argue by our own portrayals to others. Look at Facebook, the social media giant and how it is used – how we portray ourselves on this, via our posts, our likes, our shares and (particularly) our photos. The question is not - whom do you know with a Facebook profile, but who do you know that doesn’t have one. Some may ask the question - would this book have existed if Facebook didn’t exist? Or would it have existed under a different name perhaps? I’ll leave that one for you to ponder.
But the reinventing of the author reader relationship is a core value of bookperformance. As in “The Lost Author” (pages 12-13) where Çiğdem claims to be not well integrated into the digital stuff, it provides the reader with the outlet to step away from that world and…. guess what…once more relate on the human level with others. Does the author think that people can integrate into the world of the book, as the author well integrated. As experienced on the day of the Brussels launch of it, bookperformance is meant to be in action with the readers’ involvement with the reading, acting, sounding. It’s a new level of interaction, which begs the question whether the author and the reader are now the same? Especially when Çiğdem relinquishes the authority of the author to the readers/participants.
She relates to the reader some beautiful stories, from her own experiences, such as “The New Ella of the Cinder” (pages 19-24) whereby she would first play a game in the title of the story by reminding us our childhood and then with a young neighbourhood boy pretending to be his fairy and make his wishes come true. These are stories that relate to everyone’s childhood. As young kids we no doubt had someone who we looked up to, who made wishes come true. Simultaneously as teenagers or grown-ups maybe we were role models for kids, which may lend a responsibility of sorts to be a positive element of a child’s life. We can visualise this happening or indeed it can bring up visual memories for us who may have had similar experiences.
Tales relate to our human desire too such as in the beautiful “A Strange Meeting, Somewhere Somehow” (pages 74-79), displaying how the magic encountered during a spontaneous meeting…which is made all the more real/ more human when the main character states that he doesn’t want the encounter to end – a feeling we all have upon a spontaneous meeting with someone we desire.
The author relays her concerns regarding the situation in her home country “My beautiful Turkey” such as in “Notes From My Foreign Land” (pages 128-143). Despite no longer residing there the author speaks of her yearning for her home state that while she is “outside” but her head is “inside”. Turkey is, the author says, “a beautiful voice of a beloved calling ‘heeellllpp’ from faraway”. Again it is something that can resonate with many of us who’ve left our native countries for one reason or another. It portrays and indeed visualises for us the worry one may feel for their homeland, especially one where the political situation is volatile.
With MyFace Book the author has shown something highly unique and authentic and perhaps a sample of a new kind of literary genre. You have to be ready to appreciate its difference and be willing to let it expand your mind visually. It was designed to be a book and a performance and you the reader, the witness are invited by Çiğdem, even if it is the actual Çiğdem or not, to “join her performance - you may witness her as well.”
*Reader-Author-Performance by Owen Stafford, an Irish journalist and editor based in Brussels and working for European institutions. He joined MyFace Book Performance at Waterstones and hosted bookperformances at Radio X and BXL fm.