Geoff Dyer's Point 3

From the previous post on how to write, I liked this so much I needed to keep it forever:

Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.


  1. Don't be one of those readers either.

    I know readers who won't read Dostoyevsky because Nabokov didn't like him.

  2. Dear Fred,

    Absolutely! In fact it might be generalized--don't be one of those readers/writers who spends your life sucking up to ANYONE.

    And I'm about to betray my total philistinism here--I just don't see that Nabokov is "all that." I can't think of a single thing he's written that I've actually enjoyed. _Lolita_ horrifies me from the get-go--I don't like to spend time in the company of monsters, _Ada_ likewise--I've tried Bend Sinister, Pnin, Speak, Memory, and what seems like countless others and all I can figure is that Nabokov had such a high opinion of himself that he managed to impress others with it.

    Perhaps, just as with James and Conrad, his time will come in my reading life--but I'm so put off by the persona that I somewhat doubt it.



  3. Steven,

    Yes! I used to like Nabokov, quite a bit. And wasn't even put off by Lolita, because I was too caught up in the Joycean wordplay to be offended by the subject matter. But then I read a collection of essays/interviews called Strong Opinions. Off-putting in the extreme.

    At any rate, love the quotation.

  4. Steven - Nabokov was one of my earliest literary discoveries. All the books you mention and many more are touchstones for me. Over the years though I have learnt to divorce the writer, his opinions and his works. The man became insufferable, what the Americans accurately call a blowhard (I love the term and it can be so apt).

  5. Steven,

    I've also read a number of Nabokov's works. I find them technically good, but something is missing--humanity.

    My impression is that Nabokov is sitting on high and laughing derisively at his characters. I get the feeling he doesn't like them any more than a young child likes the flies whose wings it is pulling off.

    His characters are cloth and wood puppets whom he plays with for awhile and then dumps in a box when he's bored with them. I think that's why he doesn't like Dostoyevsky whose humanity is obvious. I get the feeling that Dostoyevsky cared even about his villains whereas Nabokov cared for no one.

  6. Dear Anthony,

    Perhaps you can recommed something that isn't quite so objectionable from point of view of subject matter--some placed where I can get a feel for the language without having sensibilities trampled. I'll admit to some fairly strong constraints around my reading, and I would like to appreciate Nabokov, but honestly, even despite the subject matter (take innocuous subjects such as the essays on literature), I tend to be bored by his own obsession with his virtuosity. On the other hand, it is one of my great delights to have been wrong and to discover the wonders of writers whom I've dismissed over the years. It is kind of happening with Philip
    Roth--though I'm still uncertain there.
    So, suggestions would be welcome. Perhaps _Pale Fire_.


    Your impression correspond with my own. And as Anthony pointed out, he did tend to be a bit full of himself and obnoxious as a persona (I won't say as a person, because I'm not certain that we ever saw behind the public mask he put out for general consumption. He might have behaved just as poorly in private, but frankly, I'm not sure I care to find out.)



  7. Steven,

    _Pale Fire_ would be a good one to try.

    I thought it was a satire or parody of lit crit, but I was informed otherwise by various faculty while I was in grad school.

  8. Steven,

    I have no impression of Nabokov as a person, aside from what seeped through from his writings.

    I gained the vague idea, which I discounted, of a cold, distant person. But, that was based on his authorial persona, which may be quite other than what he might be in person.

  9. Steven - Pale Fire is wonderful but if Ada or Speak, Memory failed to win you to Nabokov, it may not do the trick. Perhaps The Luzhin Defense which contains, i think, fewer autobiographical elements.


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