Sunday, March 2, 2008

Good News for People Who Think Vladimir Nabokov Isn't In the News Enough

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nabokov doesn't make enough headlines, and hell, novelists dead or alive, great or miserable, read or unread, don't warrant much attention, and possibly with good reason. But I'm one of those guys who loves a beautiful book, and joyful wordplay, and devastating sadness, and happens to think that Nabokov wrote better in English, a language not native to him, and understood America, again, not his original thing, better than the rest of us ever will.

So I'm digging this article in Slate about Nabokov's super-secret, never-published, languishing-in-a-vault novel LAURA. I'm so totally not a scholar, and certainly haven't ready his entire library yet (my favorite, for the record, at this point, so far, is still PALE FIRE), but I'm more than intrigued. I'm reading this thing. Unless, of course, his son Dimitri burns it.

The situation, according to Ron Rosenbaum's article, is this: the author's deathbed wish was that the manuscript be incinerated, that it wasn't up to his standards, that he did not want to inflict it upon the world. Apparently one or two scholars have been allowed to read it, though, and Dimitri has been hanging onto it, conflicted.

Now--hey, thanks Ron!--the debate has been opened, with the idea surfacing that Dimitri ought to ignore a literary legend's dying wishes. In fact, he now claims to have received a ghostly dream from his father, who now says, "Why not make some money on the damn thing?"

Maybe I'm a dark idiot, but I agreed with this dubious specter of a dead man. Publish it. It's already trickling into the world, let it breathe and let it be. Maybe it'll turn out to be a lesser work, maybe it'll be a masterpiece, either way, the man's words now belong to the whole of human history and record. So, if you were waiting for my approval, Dimitri, you've got it. Go ahead. Seriously.

Maybe I'm a cliche and all, but LOLITA is one of the books I break out when I just need a little reminder about what's possible, with writing, with simple words. The only copy I have right now is of THE ANNOTATED LOLITA, which one of my college professors put together and is, I admit, very impressive. It's like three times longer than the actual book, with pretty much every allusion and double-entendre noted and illuminated. It's well worth the study, but I need to get me a clean version. I'm to the point now where I'm okay not being reminded that every other word is a reference to something I haven't read and won't. I'm okay getting what I get.

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