Strong Opinions

Was there on Sunday, The Green Apple bookstore’s used book division seemed to have gone through some re-shelving. Each alphabet section seemed to have expanded a bit. For the first time, i realized that I only linger in front of a selected few shelves.

I often start with N, which is always a good one. It helps that M (Maugham) is not far away. Afterwards, I moved deeper into the isle and would find I (Irving). A couple of shelves further up the chain, actually used to be horizontally shifting two shelves from I along the backwall of the store before they did the reshelving. Now I had to turn a corner to reach G (Greene). The last shelf i visit would be at the head of the alphabet, now back toward the front of the store where the cash register and the entrance to CD/DVD section are close by., A (Auster).

Under section N, I had been interested in Naipaul. But this time, Nabokov caught my eyes. The store seemed to have recently expanded both author’s selections. In addition to Nabokov’s fictions, there were a few non-fictions as well. I randomly picked up one thin volume “Strong Opinions” which seemed to have been mentioned in J. M. Coetzee’s recent work “Diary of a Bad Year.” Although I can’t be sure whether it was referring to Nabokov’s work or merely a description of Coetzee’s character’s work. But the connection seemed interesting enough. Turned out to be a collection of interviews given by Nabokov.

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.

Haha. So Nabokov prefers a flair of exaggeration. “hearty mediocrities”, interesting phrase.

And there is more:

Could you describe this work? [ referring to Eugene Onegin, Nabokov’s current translation work]
During my years of teaching literature at Cornell and elsewhere I demanded of my students the passion of science and the patience of poetry. As an artist and scholar I prefer the specific detail to the generalization, images to ideas, obscure facts to clear symbols, and the discovered wild fruit to the synthetic jam.

“the passion of science and the patience of poetry”? I always thought it was the other way around…

In a couple of passages he mentioned 100 lectures he gave on Russian literature, and I could see that volume right on the shelf “Lectures on Russian Literature”. I opened the book at Leo Tolstoy-Anna Karenin:

…we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev. This is rather like grading students’ papers and no doubt Dostoevski and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks.

Fantastic, isn’t it? I’m intrigued by his witty language. Despite his cockiness.

These two books have to go with me. As i continued browsing my usual sections, I picked up Paul Auster’s Brooklyn Follies as well.

Satisfied, I walked back to the N section where there was a chair and started reading. In that very moment, I wish i could just sit there and do nothing until i finish reading all three books. I was surrounded by books, sitting on a comfortable chair, even with a sky light right above my head. Not one, not two, but three books waiting for my consumption. Nirvana.

Sadly, I couldn’t sit in the store and read forever. As I was checking out. The cash register suddenly fell into character, for the first time, what was described by other author, a typical used bookstore clerk appeared in front of me. He looked at my selection and locked his gaze on Nabokov’s Strong Opinions. “Is this the one that has his letters?”
“Uhm, I think this is a collection of his interviews.”
“Oh, there is one with all of his letters and it is fantastic. We are not allowed to buy books here, otherwise i would have gotten that one.”
“…” [agonizing whether to rush back to the Nabokov shelf, locate the collection of letters (i thought i did see something under that kind of title, “letters by Nabokov”? “Nabokov letter collections”?) and bring it back and pay for it.
“You’ve read Pale Fire?”
“Excuse me, Pale what?”
“Pale Fire.” incredulous look as if i’m some kind of alien.
“Oh, no, don’t think so.”
“You like Nabokov but you’ve never read Pale Fire?!” [implying…SHAME ON YOU! You don’t deserve to own any Nabokov. Give back that book, put it back on the shelf!]
“…” smiled and shrug.

I guess people weren’t making it up that used bookstore clerk are judgmental. Oh well, what do i care? The only Nabokov I find interesting enough was Lolita. Until today. Maybe i will try pale fire someday. But no rush, really. My hands are full, for the moment.