I often think about first exposures to various works of art, books, film, television, etc. and how that impacts the way we consume this art and subsequent works by the author. I realize that I am not the first to contemplate this issue, so originality aside, allow me to venture into territory that others have already explored. I apologize if this post seems only tangentially related to Nabokov. It’s still a fairly ‘bookish’ post.
I will always love Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and yet I wonder at how this colours my experience with the rest of his works. I do not think that I would have read Ada had I not read Lolita. I would not have continued to attempt to read Ada (four times I failed before I finally finished this summer) had I not faith in Nabokov’s writing abilities. My love of Lolita is what kept me persistent in my attempts to finish Ada (that and my dear sister/fellow blogger).
I’ll be honest, I was tempted by this cover and by the subject matter. I knew I was NOT supposed to read this work of fiction. It was forbidden, it was taboo. Despite the fact that my parents had long ago stopped caring about what I was reading, I still felt dirty. As if I was doing something very wrong by picking up a book. I had read the back. I knew what I was getting into and it made me smile. There was also some kind of pride in walking around with a book that ‘adult’. “Oh it’s about a man who falls in love with a young girl.” as I casually mentioned it to my friends, a perverse need to shock people. Yes, I’m young and I’m reading something I shouldn’t. Fucking deal with it.
In my own experience, first exposure often signifies first love, for better or worse. It will shape all future encounters with other works. Is it nostalgia or something more?
So much depends on that first encounter. If you pick up a Russian masterpiece and find yourself frustrated, you’re less likely to return to that genre because all of those emotions/thoughts/frustrations are instantly recalled when you confront something similar. Humans are kind of horrible this way. We form opinions very quickly and we tend to hold long grudges.
As I’m creeping ever closer to my mid-30s I find myself wanting to go back and pick up books I’ve abandoned. I tell myself: “Maybe you weren’t ready for that particular work at that particular time. Maybe you were hasty, too quick to judge…”
My first exposure of D.H. Lawrence was a mixed bag. I enjoyed his shorter fiction but when I ventured into one of his novels, I found myself bored. The writing is beautiful but the subject matter was uninteresting to me. I often think that maybe I should go back and try again. And I also keep on putting it off because I feel that a few more years will help. Maybe Lawrence is not someone that a person should read until they’re in their late 30s. Maybe Lolita can only be read when you’re 17 and maybe my enjoyment is heightened because I know I’m “not supposed” to be reading or “enjoying” such a delicious and taboo work of fiction.
I’m willing to give Lawrence another chance, so for anyone who finds themselves disturbed by the subject of Nabokov’s most (in)famous work, Lolita—do yourself a favour and give him another chance. You might surprise yourself. New opportunities & new adventures await.