UPDATE:

Without realizing it sister and I basically took a break from reading Nabokov this summer. If sister is anything like me (and we’re oddly synced despite our distances), she’s probably itching to get back into a Nabokovian rabbit-hole. I think we will pick up Mary again. We had high hopes but summer-time is full of yard-work, school, jobs, camping, and being lazy. 

Just an update to let you know that we’ll be blogging more original content and digging into more of his works this autumn. We’re still here, we still love Nabokov. Don’t go anywhere. Soon.

Cheers,

V.V.

"The Many Face of the Novel" by Grant Snider

"The Many Face of the Novel" by Grant Snider


ICE CREAM CONE (DESPAIR) — ALEX GROSS

ICE CREAM CONE (DESPAIR) — ALEX GROSS

Darwin's Beagle library

Charles Darwin’s Beagle library ”As a research vessel HMS Beagle may not have had the internet, but she did have an impressive state-of-the-art library of about 400 volumes. “

Lots of illustrations and information about insects, birds, animals, plants, etc. There is so much to love with this website and this particular link. I easily wasted a good thirty-five minutes just clicking and reading. 

V.V.

Viral Professors

How would fictional professors, heroes of those quaint works known as campus novels, fare in the world of online education?

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"Little known fact: MOOCs (massive open online courses) were invented by Vladimir Nabokov in his campus novel, Pnin, long before Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig launched their “Online Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” in 2011.”

Letters From The Larvarium

Texa Numberwing, callicore texa

This funky lepidoptera is distinguished by its colourful underwings, with markings often resembling geometric shapes, numbers, and letters. Numberwing enjoys hanging in tropical rain forests of Mexico through to Bolivia. If you ever find yourself in such locales, you might have a Numberwing or two settle on your exposed skin to drink your sweat, such is their thirst for dissolved minerals.

What a great shame these butterflies are killed in vast numbers every year, their wings harvested for jewelry, decorative plates and other such trivial souvenirs.

I suppose I too am guilty of pressing a crocus between Lolita’s pages, or crushing ladybugs beneath my sprinting feet, brown with sun and summer dirt. I am guilty, but still I wonder.

Can we not appreciate beauty in situ? Must we capture, kill, and trap behind glass all that is lovely in this world? Death is no longer a natural return, but an ugly act of will. Ironic preservation.

Until next time, my lovely grubs.

A.V.

“If only the interest he provokes were limited to his immediate surroundings, but, alas, it is not!… Still farther away, great mountains of data mining sum up, in zeroes and ones, the ultimate truth of his being.”

KA Semënova updates Nabokov‘s short story “Signs and Symbols” (and works by other famous Russian authors) for McSweeney’s, “teh internets” and the digital world.

This is delightful, sister would definitely approve. 

V.V.


Carl Saltzman, first electric streetlights, 1884

Carl Saltzman, first electric streetlights, 1884

The Fight by Vladimir Nabokov

Another first person point-of-view character. A man who finds himself in Berlin during the summer. Bathing and sunning himself in the beach, our narrator finds himself becoming close friends with a local barkeep who also frequents the same beach. The barkeep, the barkeep’s daughter, and the electrician who is in love with her. A drunken narrator who finds himself one night observing a dispute between the father and the lover over an unpaid bar tab. 

The way this story is written is as if you are sitting in the bar with our narrator. You can smell the beer, feel the damp air, that sweaty kind of grime that only comes with drinking one too many on a hot summer afternoon. 

I neither know nor wish to know who was wrong and who was right in this affair. The story could have been given a different twist, and made to depict compassionately how a girl’s happiness had been mortified for the sake of a copper coin, how Emma spent the whole night crying, and how, after falling asleep toward morning, she saw again, in her dreams, the frenzied face of her father as he pummelled her lover. Or perhaps what matters is not the human pain or joy at all but, rather, the play of shadow and light on a live body, the harmony of trifles assembled on this particular day, at this particular moment, in a unique and inimitable way. 

This is the last paragraph in the story and I smiled the entire time I was reading it. I felt as if Nabokov stepped outside of his story and was standing in front of a lectern discussing the way a writer’s mind works. The way the writer taps into the reader and pulls threads in one direction or another. 

Of the three Berlin stories I have reviewed today, this one is my favourite. There was an unanticipated build up to the fight that you knew was coming (having read the title). I knew it was going to be a major part of the story but I didn’t know when or where it would take place. Despite knowing it was coming, it still caught me off guard. It is difficult to describe. The pacing was astounding. Just the right amount of tension, of observation, of story-telling. That is what this story is, a bar-story, something you’d tell to your friend while drinking several beers. 

Definitely worth reading. 

V.V.

A Letter That Never Reached Russia by Vladimir Nabokov

This story contains an odd point of view. Nabokov often detaches himself from his stories. There is usually some filter or distance that allows his characters to step outside of themselves (and us along with them). 

First person narration of a narrator who is writing to his lover. Our narrator (may be male or female) lives in Berlin and describes various vignettes of night-time life: the middle-aged whore standing on the corner, a Great Dane being walked by a pretty little girl, a man coming home after a day of work. 

These observations feel more at home with a journal and less so with a letter that never reaches its intended audience. 

The ending of this short story becomes a treatise on the philosophy of what is or is not considered “fashion” and how temporary and cyclical this notion is. It feels a bit ‘get off my lawn’ in the final few paragraphs. 

And then there is this shoe-horned reflection about a local story of a young woman who committed suicide on her mother’s grave. 

I am not sure what kind of love-letter this is. The narrator ends this letter by claiming that he/she is happy and content. 

It becomes rather messy and I did not enjoy this particular work. 

I’ve often commented on how Nabokov uses his short-stories to test ideas, to try out various points of view, scenes, settings, dialogue, etc. 

I may re-read this to see if it improves upon a second reading. 

V.V.