by K.M. Zahrt
Without further adieu, here it is, the answer: “Of course, as you have guessed, the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense–which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance” (Nabokov, p. 3). Congratulations to Michigander Katie, who guessed the answers correctly. Full disclosure, she is my wife, and that was her legitimate guess. I did not give her hints, nor did she sneak into my study and rifle though the Nabokov texts on my desk to cheat and steal the right answer. This is how I know:
I figured Jesse Pinkman wouldn’t have taken the time to hang it nice and straight, so I didn’t either.
Nabokov goes on to write: “Incidentally, I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. [I can hear you, along with all the students to the very back of Nabokov’s lecture hall, calling out, “Yes, Professor, tell us why!”] When we read a book for the first time, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation.” To truly appreciate a written work, we have to go beyond, what Nabokov calls, the “process of laboriously moving our eyes from right to left.” (p. 3)
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, that a major achievement of a writer is to establish a recognizable style–to move from merely writer to artist. I think that is the distinction Nabokov is making, when he writes: “Literature is invention. Fiction is fiction” (p. 5). Lolita, for example, is a daring work of art. It was at the time Nabokov wrote and published it, and it is still to this day.
When reading Nabokov’s fiction, you feel his presence over the text. You understand that someone is there, manipulating the story just so, and you feel like he is playing a game with you. Once, in an interview, Nabokov spoke of Lolita, saying (paraphrasing now), he enjoyed creating her in his laboratory. That, to me, is the beauty of Nabokov’s work–that experience. The sense that Nabokov is toying with you as much as with his characters, as if you’re all part of his grand experiment.