In his reading, the desire to discover new horizons coexisted with a will to delve as deeply as he could into the work of some writers or in domains with which he was already familiar. He had the same attitude in Music and Art. Istomin developed a particular interest in authors whose personality and ideas were different from his, and even in those who were in conflict with his ideals. He needed to understand the “other one”, the person who did not think and act like him. His greatest fascination was for two writers of whose ideas he disapproved: Ezra Pound and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. This fascination was so intense that his library included about one hundred and fifty books by and about Pound, including many rarities and limited editions!
Michel de Montaigne
Reading was a way for him to get to know humanity, the world, and God. His permanently-awakened curiosity was directed towards a variety of interests. Poetry in English and French occupied an important place. Although he was attentive to contemporary literature (with a special fondness for Milan Kundera), he constantly returned to his best-loved writers – Flaubert, Proust, and above all Montaigne, who brought him egotism, inner freedom, tolerance, open-minded skepticism, and the cult of friendship and loyalty.
Strangely enough, Istomin was not tempted to enter in personal contact with writers, unlike painters. The only exception was Samuel Beckett, to whom he was introduced by his close friend Avigdor Arikha. Nevertheless, Istomin’s affection and admiration for Beckett were more for the person than for the writer who, in any case, was very secretive about his work.
Philosophy and science made up a significant part of Istomin’s reading. He had no scientific education, but had always been fascinated by mathematical and physical theories. Ned Rorem remembered him already being immersed in the Principia Mathematica by Whitehead and Russell when he was still a teenager. Later, he embarked on treatises on nuclear physics or astronomy, and read them as if they were poetic evocations of the origin of the world. In Istomin, there was always a confrontation between the temptation of nihilism and the aspiration for the existence of a divine presence.