This is an odds and ends collection of Nabokov uncollected nonfiction published recently. It spans about 50 years or so of the writer’s life and is a bit hit or miss, but when it hits, it’s very good. You have to like Nabokov both as a writer and as a crank I think to really enjoy, and I will provide some highlights. It begins with early reviews and literary assessments. It’s important to remember that while he was absolutely brilliant and well-read, he’s not trained as a literary critic, so a lot of his early criticism is formed off that kind of “I like good writing” school of thought. So the early stuff is mostly fine. It’s when he starts writing cranky letters to the editor being mad at comments in reviews and peevishly correcting factual mistakes when he really starts to shine.
The book takes on a whole new life, however, when he is doing a press tour (that lasted years) for the success of Lolita; that’s when he’s responded to dozens of interview questions on all sorts of topics and defending his novel against a lot of (mostly undeserved) criticism of the book.
Here’s some highlights:
“You could have found something more normal.
Of course. It’s interesting to ride a bike. But to do it without hands, without tires, without wheels, is still better, because more difficult.
Then would Lolita be above all a satire?
Not at all! It’s a very tender book. An American Map of Tenderness. An America of my own, imaginary: a maquette.
Is Lolita amoral?
On the contrary. It has a very moral moral: don’t harm children. Now, Humbert does. We might defend his feelings for Lolita, but not his perversity.”
And it goes on. It’s fun to watch him tear apart various authors, calling Faulkner and Camus “not artists” and saying Pasternak “makes Steinbeck look like a genius.”
And I like all those authors!