I confess I do believe in Nabokov


Awkwardly ashamed and a little sad that I have not written in so long, I have decided that I need to share that Nabokov has kept turning up in my life in unlikely ways recently. I’ve twisted his name about in my brain and found myself bringing up lines from his novels or snippets of things I’ve heard about his (to me, eccentric, exhilarating) life in otherwise unremarkable conversations. In the ways that I may sometimes even force his name or works into a conversation, it has come to remind me of the first signs of a school crush. So, I thought there may be no better place to write out a bit in his memory than through this aptly titled blog. I also realized that I never formally introduced Nabokov into this blog at all, despite the name. So, here is an excerpt from his memoir, Speak, Memory. About four years ago, while reading Speak, Memory for the first time, I underlined most of the words and phrases in this paragraph before just circling the entire section and scribbling a dark exclamation point in the margin. I’m holding the same copy that I received as a gift four years ago, and read almost entirely while pacing in my bright, empty dorm room in Germany. With the exception of more markings and wear, it’s still the same light, smooth-to-the touch tomb that I can only assume will always evoke the very same unable-to-sit-down-while-reading enchantment every time I remember to pull it from the shelf.

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness- in a landscape selected at random- is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern- to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”

Winter Favorites List

Mia asked me to write down my top ten favorite books. She said I had until Friday. Roughly two months later, I have a number of lists scribbled down on a number of different receipts and bookmarks.  I tried to keep each of my lists to roughly ten books, and when a list got any longer than that I made lists for separate sub-categories. They span from “coming of age” to “family chronicles” to simply “Japanese.”

But today, since I saw some sun through the shop window for half a day that put me in a chipper mood, I thought I’d put together a list of the books that got me through this particular winter. As I have probably mentioned to some of you, I didn’t think this winter was particularly bad. That could be for a number of reasons, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out denial, but a good book is a pretty distracting thing…especially on a rainy day.

Winter 2011/2012 Favorites List, in no particular order:

Kazuo Ishiguro- Never Let Me Go

I don’t read much modern fiction, but this winter I dabbled in some more recent stuff, and I’m really glad I did. Another of my somewhat recent modern favorites is Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald. I mention him here because both he and Ishiguro play with memory, mortality and destruction in such a way that somehow turns an  imaginary past into a haunting place of refuge. Or, as Sebald says in Emigrants:  “Zerstöret das Letzte die Erinnerung nicht

Gabriel Garcia Marquez-Clandestine in Chile

I thought I had read everything Garcia Marquez ever wrote (er…that was published), until I realized I had mixed up News of a Kidnapping with Clandestine in Chile. I remedied this over Christmas. It was such a fantastic, quick piece of non-fiction! And somehow it also doesn’t lose any of Garcia Marquez’s iconic style.  In fact, sometimes that magical realism is almost more poignantly voiced through the mouths of unbelievably real people with a seemingly supernatural, omnipresent love and longing for ‘home.’

Carson McCullers- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

“You’re tearing me apart Lisa!!!” Scroll down to the blog post from sometime this winter in which I pour my heart out to Carson McCullers. Since that post, I’ve read a bunch of her short stories and essays and a few other novellas. All good. All great, actually. But Heart is a Lonely Hunter can so solidly stand on its own. Big love stamp from Lindsay on this one.

Willa Cather- My Antonia

When  I started to read this I was shot back to my childhood Laura Ingalls Wilder phase and I was certain I’d just be reading about Ma and Pa and dang snake bites and passing the ol’ pig skin to kill time out on the prairie. I was mostly wrong, in all the right ways.

Just when you’re not sure how all her portraits and landscapes are going to fuse together in any clear-cut, overarching understanding, she pulls out lines like this: “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky- Memories of the Future

Memories, memories, memories, time travel, memories, memories, time machine, memories, memories, mad scientist, memories…

Patrick Leigh Fermor- A Time of Gifts

Like Carson McCullers, I was so entrenched in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel memoir/prose/pre-WWI historical sketching that I dedicated a short post to him earlier this winter. It was, in a sense, a rough read, because it brought back that contagious feeling of adventure through travel. And in a less self-indulgent, egocentric Jack Kerouac kind-of-way, he wraps you in his travels by so eloquently capturing the character of  a people and the complexion of a place.

Side note– did you get a look at that jaw-line?? Cat sounds!

Least-Favorites List

A few books I could have done without this winter, all for completely different reasons, but mainly under three categories: “Bored to tears,” “Holy God I’m too depressed for this” and “Oprah’s Book Club” in no particular order:

Margaret Atwood- A Handmaid’s Tale

Knut Hamsun- Hunger

Maude Hutchins- Victorine