If you heard our interview on The John Batchelor Show tonight (catch it at the 29:50 mark), and if you want to check out the marvelous clip of Vladimir Nabokov reading Lolita, here it is. Originally aired on 1950s French television, this clip gives you some vintage Vladimir Nabokov. Early on, the Russian novelist reads the wonderfully poetic first lines of Lolita: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
Then we get down to real business. Putting on his literary critic cap, Nabokov tells us what 20th novels make real or pretend claims to greatness. First the fakers: I’ve been perplexed and amused by fabricated notions about so-called “great books.” That, for instance, Mann’s asinine Death in Venice, or Pasternak’s melodramatic, vilely written Doctor Zhivago, or Faulkner’s corncobby chronicles can be considered masterpieces, or at least what journalists term “great books,” is to me the same sort of absurd delusion as when a hypnotized person makes love to a chair.
And then the true greats in order of personal preference:
1) James Joyce’s Ulysses
2) Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
3) Andrei Bely’s St. Petersburg
4) The first half of Proust’s fairy tale, In Search of Lost Time
Check the Open Culture Cultural Icons collection, which features great writers, artists and thinkers speaking in their own words. And if we have piqued your interest, don’t miss these other Nabokov gems: