Are you a good reader? Take Nabokov’s quiz.

by K.M. Zahrt

The 19th Century deserves some credit for producing some of the most influential authors of the 20th Century. In 1899, as it laid on its deathbed, not one year from a sure end, the 19th Century churned out two authors that would impact the course of the 20th Century, both in terms of literature and life, but in very different ways, from different ends of the earth, and from different ends of the literary world: Vladimir Nabokov, born April 22, 1899, in Saint Petersburg, Russia; and Ernest Hemingway, born July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. Hemingway was, in many ways, a Michigander (more to come on that topic later), but for all intents and purposes, particularly for the purpose of this post, I’ll deem Nabokov an honorary Michigander as much as he was an honorable honorary American.

It’s too bad Nabokov never had a chance to become a boy scout; he would have been phenomenal. He adhered to their motto: Be prepared! According to Nabokov, “In 1940, before launching on my academic career in America, I fortunately took the trouble of writing one hundred lectures–about 2,000 pages–on Russian literature, and later another hundred lectures on great novelists from Jane Austen to James Joyce. This kept me happy at Wellesley and Cornell for twenty academic years” (Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov, edited by Fredson Bowers, p. vii). How’s that for dressing for the job you want, not for the job you have? In sum, Nabokov is to literature what Hitchcock is to suspense films–a master stylist producing stories that play with the reader’s emotions in the darkest regions of human experience.

With that introduction, Nabokov introduced his lectures by proposing a fun little quiz. He offered 10 definitions for what he determined a “good reader” should be, only four of which he determined to be the right answers. I thought it would be fun to propose the quiz to you.

From Nabokov’s list below, select the four qualities you consider to be characteristics of a “good reader” (p.3). Reply to this post with your answers. On Wednesday, as part of the second post in this series on Nabokov, I’ll reveal his answers. Honor system, now. No cheating.

  1. The reader should belong to a book club.
  2. The reader should identify himself or herself with the hero or heroine.
  3. The reader should concentrate on the social-economic angle.
  4. The reader should prefer a story with action and dialogue to one with none.
  5. The reader should have seen the book in a movie.
  6. The reader should be a budding author.
  7. The reader should have imagination.
  8. The reader should have memory.
  9. The reader should have a dictionary.
  10. The reader should have some artistic sense.

Along with your answers, if you want to leave some reflections on what they might say about you as a reader, we’d love to hear from you. Read and write on!


4 thoughts on “Are you a good reader? Take Nabokov’s quiz.

  1. Pingback: Sad news for literature and languages studies | Cool lady blog

  2. Pingback: Sad news for literature and languages studies | How my heart speaks

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