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Today’s weekend read sends you off to lib.ru, a Russian website host to twenty-one interviews with Vladimir Nabokov. Some readers may recognize them from Nabokov’s collection, Strong Opinions. Although I would of course suggest that you pick up a good used copy, if you’ve not had the pleasure of reading Nabokov in the role of interlocutee, consider the first example, which begins:
Interviewers do not find you a particularly stimulating person. Why is that so?
I pride myself on being a person with no public appeal. I have never been drunk in my life. I never use schoolboy words of four letters. I have never worked in an office or in a coal mine. I have never belonged to any club or group. No creed or school has had any influence on me whatsoever. Nothing bores me more than political novels and the literature of social intent.
Still there must be things that move you—likes and dislikes.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music. My pleasures are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting.
You write everything in longhand, don’t you?
Yes. I cannot type.
Would you agree to show us a sample of your rough drafts?
I’m afraid I must refuse. Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It is like passing around samples of one’s sputum.
The interview, which, like all those Nabokov granted, was conducted in writing, continues here. And those of you who would like to sample more before a hardbound copy arrives by mail, an absence of Russian won’t keep you from exploring the site, heavy though it is on cyrillic navigation. By replacing “01″ in the web address of the first interview with “02″, “03″, and on to “22″ (skipping a defunct “07″) your tired eyes are in for more mandarin fun than they can manage.
More from Wyatt Mason:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”