Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Vladimir Nabokov

I'm reading a 1977 biography of Vladimir Nabokov. It's Nabokov: His Life in Part by Andrew Field. I'm not impressed by the biography. The author's photo on the back flap says it all. A bearded, relatively young man in glasses is staring into the camera. He's holding a pen to his mouth in a thoughtful, but pretentious pose. Give me a break. The photo I could ignore though, if the writing wasn't so precious. Even worse, he is so infatuated with the aristocratic Nabokov family that he spends the first two chapters of seven writing about them in almost devotional terms.

So why read the biography? I might have chosen another one but, given the skimpy holdings of the DeKalb County Library, it was the best I could do. Why read a biography of Nabokov at all? That's a good question. He's not a favorite of mine. His novels tend to be cerebral puzzles and, just to make sure the reader doesn't forget that fact, he creates a deliberate distance between his reader and his characters. That sort of thing isn't really my cup of tea.

It all comes down to something I read in one of those writing books that I mentioned. It said that Nabokov wrote "Lolita" in three months. I find that hard to believe so I wanted to find out if it was true. I haven't reached that part of the biography yet, but it has been made clear that, if Nabokov did say that, he could have been embellishing the facts. It wasn't all that unusual for him to do so when asked about things that he considered personal. When it comes to the autobiographical, he's an unreliable narrator.

So, what is all of this leading up to? Well, Nabokov had one of the more unusual of working habits. He would write while standing at a lectern, and he wrote on index cards. He would use a pencil because he didn't like to strike out lines and he erased liberally. The index cards would be stored in two wooden cases that had been made for them. Nabokov was a bit of a technophobe, as technology went at his time, and he didn't type, so when he finished a book, he would have to get someone to type the manuscript for him.

While standing at a lectern? Geez, that would be tiresome. One hell of a way to skin a cat, I'd say.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home