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Strong Opinions by Vladimir Nabokov

Strong Opinions

by Vladimir Nabokov

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"Strong Opinions" is a very fitting title for this meandering collection of Nabokov's interviews, essays and even a selection of his work in lepidoptery.

His distinctive aristocratic tone is easily heard - he speaks nostalgically of his life in White Russia, his facile musical comprehension of English-French-Russian, and he sneers down upon an astonishing array of writers, from Dostoyevsky to Hemingway to Pasternak to Pound. When he is asked on his opinions on the literary word, he remarks, without a hint of irony, "It's a wonderful view from up here."

Yet despite, or because of, these bull-dog snarls, there is still much to like about him. His fierce devotion to his twin crafts, writing and butterflies, and what little writing he does praise. He admires Borges, Anna Karenina, and some of Gogol, and adored Kubrick's adaptation of Lolita.

If you don't like Nabokov to begin with, this will make you despise him. If you're already a fan, you might have a change of heart anyway, but there is also the chance that you will recognize his faults, cherish them, and venture forwards anyway. V.N., of course, has to have the last word: "I can quite understand people wanting to know my writings, but I cannot sympathise with anybody wanting to know me." ( )
2 vote HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
I read this mostly to supplement my reading and, I was hoping, my understanding of “Lolita,” which I’ve also recently read. “Strong Opinions” is a good choice if you want to get an idea of Nabokov’s ideas and preferences and where he’s coming from as a writer of fiction. And “strong opinions” is really no joke. The man has some of the most unorthodox opinions, especially concerning the relative merit of other writers, I’ve ever read. The last third contains several “Letters to the Editor” of various publications (most of which are negligible, in my much more pusillanimous opinion) and articles, a few of which cover his interest in Lepidoptera, which I assume most people will simply skip. I always read an entire book cover to cover before rating and reviewing it, but I openly admit to skimming over these contributions. In many of them, including an overly lengthy article on his opinion of Edmund Wilson’s relationship with and translation of “Eugene Onegin,” he delights in being particularly pedantic, tetchy, and cruel.

As I said, the most important part of this will be, for most people, the interviews. While the themes of the interviews tend to become a little repetitive, I found them important in thinking about Nabokov’s fiction. He hates the classical “novel of ideas” with a passion. He thinks many of his Russian novelist confreres have been guilty of the moralism that so often accompanies these ideas, especially in the cases of Gogol and Dostoyevsky. (He abhors Gogol’s fascination with religion, and Dostoyevsky’s clunky, bumbling characters.) He thinks that Hemingway and Conrad are “writers of books for boys,” and he thinks that Faulkner is horrible – and this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding authors on whom he has rather unusual opinions. He thinks that “Anna Karenina” can’t be understood apart from a thorough knowledge of the shape of a particular kind of trolley car, and “Ulysses” is meaningless if you don’t have a detailed mental map of Joyce’s Dublin at the ready. Ideas and history are for the birds as far as fiction is concerned; heightened, unadulterated aesthetic enjoy is what really fascinates him. His politics, if you’re interested in them at all, he describes as “liberal,” yet seems to be a rather ardent defender of intervention in Vietnam and American interests broadly speaking. He thinks Freud is a joke, and constantly makes him of him in his fiction. (Okay, perhaps at least a few people can agree on that last point.)

What’s most surprising about this collection is that the pieces were chosen by Nabokov himself, and he obviously couldn’t care less about coming off as a caviling, bitchy curmudgeon, or advertising that he didn’t mind ending a decades-long friend over differences in translating a nineteenth-century Russian poem. If you don’t share his opinions, he has no problem calling you a philistine. But why should he care? “What’s your position in the world of letters, Mr. Nabokov?” “The view is pretty good from up here,” he replies. It’s good to be the king. ( )
2 vote kant1066 | Aug 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679726098, Paperback)

In this collection of interviews, articles, and editorials, Nabokov ranges over his life, art, education, politics, literature, movies, and modern times, among other subjects.  Strong Opinions offers his trenchant, witty, and always engaging views on everything from the Russian Revolution to the correct pronunciation of Lolita.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:20 -0400)

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Interviews, articles, and editorials from the 1960s and 1970s reveal Nabokov's personal views on a range of subjects, including art, education, politics, literature, movies, and modern times

» see all 2 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141191171, 0141197196

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