Nabokov Again

#omgyouguys! In today’s surf I found What Kind of Tree Is That (mis)attributed to Nabokov! Here it is via Robert Day in the September 5, 1993, Washington Post (Mr. Day notes that it’s probably apocryphal):

Nabokov. Vladimir. American novelist and literature professor who once had something like the following conversation with a student at Cornell University:

‘Mr. Nabokov, I want to be a writer.’ Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window.

‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student.


‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’

‘I don’t know,’says the student.

‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.

It’s like my literary dead boyfriend sent me a love note.

I’m also reading Cleaning Nabokov’s House, by Leslie Daniels. It has that extravagant, “throw it all in yes the kitchen sink too!” energy that I associate with some first novels (Virginia Lanier’s first bloodhound mystery Death in Bloodhound Red is a great example). And at least in stretches it’s stuffed with wit and wry insights at such a pace I have trouble taking them all in.

It’s a new release, but I ran across it by chance, so there’s that little thrill of added value too. Well, “by chance” with respect to Nabokov. I had been thinking about Diana Wynne Jones and how much I like to read about housecleaning, so I did a keyword search. I’d already read Esmerelda Santiago’s America’s Dream and the Blanche White mystery series by Barbara Neely; I put another mystery, Maid for Murder by Barbara Colley, on my library list.

Apparently Leslie Daniels really does live in a house the Nabokovs rented. I expect he’s her literary dead boyfriend too.

Brought to you by the letter N

The end of N is in sight, in my alphabetical readings. I’m abandoning E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and just started Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. I’ve requested The Time-Traveler’s Wife on CD from the library, so I can listen to it when I run and walk at the track.

I feel bad about the Nesbit. She had a cool life and is one of the early giants of kidlit…but. The book is narrated by one of the children, and the whole time the author is sharing knowing winks with the audience. In the meantime, the kids are acting out tropes from the storybooks they know, in a tedious way that reminds me of the end of Huckleberry Finn. I don’t get who this stuff is for. Are actual children supposed to read this and understand all the things that the characters don’t, and laugh at them? Or are children supposed to read it innocently, on a level with the characters? I have this same problem with a lot of Milne. Do not get it.

Speak, Memory, on the other hand, is enchanting me. Nabokov’s childhood in pre-revolutionary Russia is so far from everything I know that it has that “everyday life long ago = fascinating” thing going on. And there’s something about the precise way he describes thought and emotional patterns that makes me feel like we know each other, like we’re sitting right next to each other. I’m only 20 pages in, but just got to the bit where he talks about his synesthesia and lists which letters in the English alphabet have which colors in his head. I want to do a color picture of his name, and perhaps below it the “word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow…in my private language the hardly prounounceable: kzspygv.”

Early plans for O: Flannery O’Connor and some of the Sharon Olds poetry I haven’t kept up with in recent years.