Century of Books

My project to read the top 100 English-language books of the twentieth century.

Location: San Francisco, United States

I am an Australian writer and blogger living in San Francisco. Visit my professional site at caitlinfitzsimmons.com, or my travel and food blog at Roaming Tales or my personal blog at The Niltiac Files. I am also on Twitter as @niltiac. See the full list of books or visit me on BookCrossing.

16 March 2006

Perspectives on Lolita

Reading Lolita in Tehran, a memoir of an English literature professor in revolutionary Iran, gives an interesting perspective on Lolita and Nabokov in general. Her reading of Lolita is that it is fundamentally about one person stealing another's life - we know how Lolita ended up but we don't know what she could have or would have become.

15 March 2006

First amendment: Lessing for Hemingway

It's been pointed out to me that I have three novels by Ernest Hemingway on the list: The Old Man and the Sea, Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. Since I have a self-imposed rule that I am allowing a maximum of two books per author and there are a number of books on the waiting list, I am making my first amendment since posting the complete list on the blog. I am removing The Sun Also Rises and replacing it with Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook.

14 March 2006

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Aah the infamous Lolita. It's good to finally see what all the fuss is about. I think I saw, or at least partly saw, the movie years ago but the book is quite a different matter since it's told in first person by the pedophile. That's quite confronting since in most books you are meant to identify with the narrator so psychologically you want to accept his version of events and empathise with his liking for so-called nymphets and love and lust for Lolita. Then you remember that he is a pedophile and that Lolita is a child. It makes for quite interesting reading.

I'd always envisaged Lolita as about sixteen but at the start of the book she is only twelve. A precocious twelve but twelve all the same. Our narrator, Humbert Humbert, makes it quite clear that he only likes little girls - once they reach fifteen or sixteen, they are too old. One might ask what Nabokov was trying to achieve or teach but as he makes quite clear in the epilogue, his book is not meant to be didactic but only artistic. If you read to the end it's quite clear that he is not trying to condone pedophilia. By the end of the book, Humbert's self-illusions were stripped away, making the monstrosity of his crimes more evident but also inviting you to pity him.

I enjoyed Nabokov's writing and intend to seek out Pale Fire at some stage. It's meant to be very good and in terms of the quality of writing, some say it's better than Lolita.

I am planning to read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi next as I thought it would be an interesting exercise to pair the two.

I'm still working on A Suitable Boy but I can't take it on the Tube as it's so large so it could take a while.

29 down, 71 to go ...