Over the course of a half-century, Vladimir Nabokov wrote hundreds of letters to his wife Vera, which are being published in book form this week for the first time. Among other things, they reveal the absurd pet names he invented for his (such as Goosykins and Monkeykins) and display Nabokov musing over whether or not to borrow a friend’s castle for the summer. Also worth reading: our own Garth Risk Hallberg on Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor.
"If one-sentence stories are as common as snowflakes, one-sentence novels are as rare as white ravens." At The New Yorker, Brad Leithauser writes about the one-sentence novel or the point when the story builds to a particular sentence. To give you an example, here’s one of his favorites from Lolita: “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art.”
What [Vladimir] Nabokov is actually doing in Lolita is deliberately drawing on all manner of anti-Semitic propaganda, from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Nazi caricatures of the Jewish ‘type,’ to create in Humbert Humbert the anti-Semitic cliché of legend, rather as, say, Chaucer draws on medieval misogynist writings to create in the figure of the Wife of Bath the archetypal shrew of his male audience’s nightmares.
2013 is looking very fruitful, readers. While last year offered new work from Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, Michael Chabon, and many more, this year we’ll get our hands on new George Saunders, Karen Russell, Jamaica Kincaid, Anne Carson, Colum McCann, Aleksandar Hemon and even Vladimir Nabokov and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as, beyond the horizon of summer, new Paul Harding, Jonathan Lethem, and Thomas Pynchon. We’ll also see an impressive array of anticipated work in translation from the likes of Alejandro Zambra, Ma Jian, László Krasznahorkai, Javier Marías and Karl Ove Knausgaard, among others. But these just offer the merest hint of the literary plenty that 2013 is poised to deliver. A bounty that we have tried to tame in another of our big book previews.
Every picture of Vladimir Nabokov catching butterflies deserves the caption, “Haters gonna hate.”