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Topic: Has any one read Lolita?

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Subject: Has any one read Lolita?
Date Posted: 9/15/2008 9:18 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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I've heard an awful lot about Nabakov's infamous book Lolita, TIME magazine rated it one of the best books of the 20th century.  Has anyone read it?

Date Posted: 9/16/2008 1:25 AM ET
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I have not, but I'd be interested to hear what it's like...
Date Posted: 9/16/2008 8:47 AM ET
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I didn't like it . . . I just couldn't get past the subject matter (pedophilia). I read it when I was a teenager so I may feel differently reading it as an adult but I don't have the inclination right now to try it again.

Date Posted: 9/16/2008 8:42 PM ET
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I read it recently.  Although it is about pedophelia, it seems a little calm in light of what we now see and hear on cable TV.  I read it because I have Reading Lolita in Tehran and wanted to read Lolita first.  I certainly do not think that it is one of the bests books of the 20th century.

Date Posted: 9/16/2008 10:56 PM ET
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How was reading Reading Lolita in Tehran after Lolita?  I was thinking about doing the same thing.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 9/17/2008 11:53 AM ET
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I read Lolita about a year ago. It's OK. I don't think it would be remembered if it weren't controversial.

Date Posted: 9/17/2008 2:29 PM ET
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I think Lolita is a beautifully written book. It is very good. I have found, however, after I became a foster/adoptive parent of sexually abused children, I could not divorce myself from the content.. I now find it unreadable. (Note, I am a big re-reader.)

Date Posted: 9/24/2008 7:17 PM ET
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Vanessa, Reading Lolita in Tehran is still in my TBR pile.  I keep meaning to read it, but then I pick up a different books.  I'll let you know when I get to it.

Subject: lolita
Date Posted: 9/26/2008 10:59 AM ET
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I loved Lolita.  I read it this past summer.  It really surprised me because for the most part it wasn't sexually driven.  If you look beyond the surface of the subject mattter it is an incredibly interesting and complex story about self justification.  I read it mainly because I wanted to read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and be better able to understand that book, what a surprise to find "Lolita" such an interesting read. 

Subject: Has any one read Lolita?
Date Posted: 10/7/2008 5:17 PM ET
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I read Lolita some time ago and it is in my top 20 favorite books, I think. Don't get me wrong--the pedophilia aspect of the novel is troubling, but the language, the language! "Lo-li-ta, my sin, my soul..." It's glorious, and improved my vocabulary significantly. Humbert Humbert was so specifically rendered and so, yep, funny that I was torn continuously as I read, as in "I am totally fascinated and amused by a narrator and main character so morally abhorrent. Am I twisted?" They don't write 'em like that any more. "Pale Fire" (also Nabokov) is almost as entrancing and a wonderful puzzle.
Subject: Lolita
Date Posted: 11/8/2008 6:49 PM ET
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I had a love/hate relationship with this novel.  I loved the language, the psychological aspects of it and the depth it has in characterization.  The pedophillia was a bit discerning, but because of it, there was all the things that I loved about the novel.  I read it in graduate school and it is a very emotionally charged novel that the faint of heart should not pick up.

Date Posted: 3/26/2009 10:16 PM ET
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So I've finally gotten around to picking this one up and... wow.  Just wow.  The writing is unlike anything I've ever encountered.  Man, Nabakov could freakin' write.  But at the same time I am so creeped out.  Its like watching a train wreck.  I usually have some sympathy for anti-heroes, even totally evil, crazy ones like Hannibal Lecter or Alex from a Clockwork Orange but Humbert Humbert is such a creep, such a whiny, dishonest, narcissistic creep.  If anyone with less literary ability than Nabakov tried to write a book like this it would be unreadable.

Date Posted: 3/27/2009 8:13 PM ET
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Vanessa, I looked back over this topic and I see that I promised to let you know when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran.  I began it, liked it at first, but finally put it down after about 100 pages (maybe less--I can't remember now).  It seemed to me that the author got more carried away with her ideas of literature (since she was a professor) than with her group of Iranian women and their reading of banned books.

Date Posted: 3/29/2009 5:02 PM ET
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I'm reading it now.  I've been meaning to read it for years, and after reading Reading Lolita in Tehran I decided I shouldn't put it off any longer.  The content is disturbing, but I agree that the writing is fascinating!!!!  I really feel like I'm glimpsing into Humbert's soul.  This is my first Nabokov, and I'm excited to read more.  Maybe I'll take Leolia's advice and try Pale Fire.

Date Posted: 3/30/2009 12:58 PM ET
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Lolita is, hands down, my favorite book of all time.  I first read it years ago because David Sedaris mentioned it in his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, and I recently reread it.  I will probably read for a third time in the next year or two.

I have worked with elementary school kids all of my working life, but the content of the book does not bother me in the least.  I don't look at it as a story about pedophelia, but rather a story about a sad man and his self destructive tendencies, a man who is hopelessy in love with something he cannot have.

Like others, I'm drawn to Nabokov's ability to render language so beautifully, even when describing such a heartbreaking story.  The following two quotes, also quoted in last fall's Time article, always kill me:

"And so we rolled East, I more devastated than braced with the satisfaction of my passion, and she glowing with health, her bi-lilac garland still as brief as a lad's, although she had added two inches to her stature and eight pounds to her weight.  We had been everywhere.  We had really seen nothing.  And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tyres, and her sobs in the night - every night, every night - the moment I feigned sleep."

"What I heard was but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic - one could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat or the clatter of a toy wagon, but it was all really too far for the eye to distinguish any movement in the lightly etched streets.  I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demur murmer for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord."

Through this language Nabokov manages to humanize Humbert, inasmuch as a pedophile can be humanized, but more importantly, in these passages, shifts the focus to Humbert's victim.

Date Posted: 3/30/2009 4:04 PM ET
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That's a interesting take on it Scott.  I enjoyed the book on the whole, its gorgeously written, but in the end I wanted to freakin' murder Humbert.  I'm not sure if he's meant to be lying to the reader in parts, or if his delusions really prevent him from seeing reality, but he's just so wrong about so many things.  When I tried imagining their roadtrip from Lolita's POV, I appalled.  I think even HH's ultimate "repentence" as seen in the second quote you posted is suspect.  He knows this narrative is his last chance to manipulate anyone's perception of him, so what's to stop him from saying whatever would win him the most sympathy?  I don't think Humbert's feelings qualify as love- he experiences selfishness, possessiveness, lust, protectiveness (but only to the extent that benefits his image of Lolita), lechery and a lot of other emotions that he portrays as love only because he's pathologically incapable of any true, honest, selfless love.  Even his revenge on Quilty is as much for himself as for Lolita.

It's a devastatingly powerful, facinating book, but its not one I'd read again in a hurry.

Also, as a lover of puzzles and wordgames I really enjoyed all the doppelganger motifs and wordplay Nabokov uses.



Last Edited on: 3/30/09 4:08 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/31/2009 5:58 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
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I think someone wrote a version from Lolita's POV a few years ago.  I have a feeling it wasn't very well received, as I can't seem to remember much about it.

I freaking love this book.  I read it for the first time about 20 years ago, before social issues became something that a book would be "about".  I think it's about obsession, and self-delusion.  I also think there is some nasty post-war European rage at stupid, innocent, shallow America in there. 

Vanessa, I agree that his revenge on Qulity has nothing to do with Lolita, really, it's all about his own rage at being deceived and having been made a mockery.  HH is the classic unreliable narrator.  I don't believe in his redemption, and I don't think his version of events is remotely trustworthy.

It's so mind-blowing to me that English wasn't Nabokov's first language (I don't even think it was his second language) and he could write like that.

Date Posted: 3/31/2009 6:24 PM ET
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I can't imagine anyone besides Nabokov having the skill or audacity to pull off a "Lolita", and I can't imagine the story being even remotely palatable any other way.  Its interesting to imagine Lolita's POV, but I don't think that a book from that perspective would be readable.

You're so right Caviglia- about Nabokov's first language, I never thought of that!  And I do love the view we get of America from Nabokov/Humbert, everything HH loves about Lolita, her youth, vulgarity, innocence, could also apply to the US.

Date Posted: 3/31/2009 7:06 PM ET
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I haven't read it in a long time, but from what I remember, I think I would actually have more problems with HH's contempt for adult women then I would  with anything else.  I remember his descriptions of the bodies of his first wife and Lolita's mother pretty vividly ("bouncing baba").  It's sort of terrifying (and there's probably a masters thesis in there somewhere) about how HH's view of women's bodies has been pretty much embraced by the larger culture.  How adult women's bodies with breasts, hips, flesh are viewed as being somewhat distasteful, as the bodies of women in the public eye are shrinking to ever more pre-adolescent proportions.  The dichotomy of pre-adolescent girls being increasingly sexualized while fears of predators are also at an all-time high.  It's like Nabokov took one look at the vulgarity of America and just nailed it perfectly in this book.  It's kind of creepily prescient.