As I look forward towards the next few homework-free months of summer, my thoughts very naturally go to my reading list. Really, it’s my reading shelf. Okay, shelves. It started out with a small section of one shelf devoted to the books that I wanted to get to sooner rather than later. I dubbed it The Green Room, and it has grown substantially since I first inaugurated it.
The problem is that I am the kind of reader who really needs to be focused on one book at a time. I become so utterly immersed in the story that trying to read another book at the same time feels like cheating. Even more than that, though, it feels unsatisfactory. Having to split my attention means I can’t fully engage the way I like to when I read, and so I end up feeling like I just ate a couple of slices of individually-wrapped cheese product when what I really wanted was one small bite of a fantastic triple cream Brie.
I must also mention an additional factor of what is increasingly reading like a mild case of OCD: I am loathe to leave a book unfinished, even if I’m not particularly enamored of it. So I really have to finish a book – not just decide that I don’t feel like reading it anymore – before I can start a new one.
Why are these two quirks of mine creating a problem for me right now? Ladies and gentlemen, I’m reading Lolita. I have managed 166 out of 317 pages of my paperback edition, and this has already taken me at least a month. What you should know in order to understand the significance of the previous statement is that I am a very fast reader. A book of 317 pages should take me no time at all.
Maybe I’ve been too influenced by my devotion to Hemingway and his spare style. Maybe it’s just not the right time for me to read this book. Perhaps there is some key element that I am missing. All I know is that Nabokov…Nabokov…Nabokov…Oh, he makes me feel like I just don’t get it!
Part of me is excited to have finally found Nabokov. I have been reserving my Friday posts for my adventures into new vocabulary items, and he has given me more material in five pages than I’ve gotten in thousands of pages from other authors: teleological, roan, Kilmerite, rufous, viatic, priapically, anent, coeval, and simulacrum.
The rest of me, however, is confused. I find myself getting impatient and wanting to skim, but if I do, I get lost. When I slow down and try to appreciate the prose in a more careful, considered way, it just makes me annoyed. His writing twists and turns and, even when I’m reading carefully, it sets me down in one location and then, without any awareness on my part, leads me to another place completely. I stand in this new scene, dizzy, trying to figure out how I got there, and start working backwards to find the pivotal moment that I somehow missed. How can he keep me in one place for so long, but change direction so abruptly, so sneakily?
I wonder why he has to interrupt himself so often, or go for so long without ending a sentence. I then ask myself why he insists on metaphor after metaphor, sometimes cramming five or six into one long paragraph. Is this to reflect the twisted nature of the protagonist/narrator, perhaps? Is it to distract the reader from being too repulsed by the subject matter? Is it to put a more romantic, flowery spin on the abhorrent actions of the pedophile telling the story?
I have not read anything else by Nabokov as of yet, so I cannot compare Lolita to anything else. I don’t know how much of this style is particular to the book or to the author. To be perfectly frank, I’m a little afraid to find out. It will be all I can do to finish this attempt at Nabokov, but finish it I will! It is a daunting task, but I will not break.
What I would dearly love at this point is to be the student of English literature, not a teacher of English literature. I need guidance, instruction, advice. Perhaps there is someone out there reading this post who could explain just a little bit about Nabokov to me. If I had some insight that I am currently blind to, maybe the second half of this book will open itself up to me in a way the first half hasn’t.
So I ask, dear readers…what’s up with Nabokov?