Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing Spaces: Nabokov's Lilting, Literary Language

Happy World Book and Copyright Day!

Yes, apparently throughout Europe today, people are reading books, celebrating literature, and talking about copyright law (I guess?). Started in Spain in 1923, World Book Day falls on the anniversary of the deaths of two literary titans: William Shakespeare and Cervantes. You can read all about it (and learn how to celebrate your own book day!) here.

It's also the unofficial-official birthday* of one of my favorite writers, Vladimir Nabokov, and the subject of today's Writing Spaces.

This is Nabokov's office at Cornell, where he's working on a translation of Eugene Onegin. I fell in love with his writing from the first thing I read, the short story "Spring in Fialta." But of course, the work that never ceases to amaze me is Lolita. Nothing in the world can compare to the absolutely brilliant, breathtaking, funny, disarming language, and I could sit and read it over and over and still find another layer of complexity to explore.

So, since World Book Day encourages you to take some time to read, I highly suggest you pick up some Nabokov and enjoy the writing of a man who loved to

write in bed,

play chess,


hunt for butterflies,

and then meticulously study those butterflies.

"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 tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep."

*I will spare you Wikipedia's confusing note on this, which mentioned Gregorian calendars and Julian calendars and time-shifting. Suffice it to say, Nabokov celebrated his birthday on April 23, despite not being born on April 23, and that's good enough for me.

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