11 March 2010

Spotted on the subway: Vladimir Nabokov edition

On an errand to the Upper East side, a teenage girl in jeans, black hair and a backpack reading LOLITA. I would have put her at 15 or 16, but she got off at the Hunter College stop so it's possible she was older that that.

I like to believe generally in the universality of reading, by which I mean anyone who reads a certain book can pull some irreducible experience out of it that can be shared with anyone else who has read it. And yet I recognize this isn't always the case. In this case I think there is a texture to reading LOLITA for the first time as a teenage girl, or close to, that cannot be replaced by reading about what it's like to read LOLITA as a teenage girl or trying to place yourself in the mindset of a teenage girl.

I was 18 when I first read LOLITA, and I wouldn't say that texture completely informed my reading, but it's still there. I would liken it in moments to the feeling you get reading about a fatal disease with a mild but sudden onset. But I haven't done it justice and I don't know that I can get closer. And if I allow that I have to allow that I will and have read books in my life whose content is not accessible to me in some way, and that there is no remedy for that.

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