Monthly Archives: April 2014

Lit Review: Lolita

lolita

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue making a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

Thus starts Nabokov’s Lolita, one of many books I felt obligated to read, and appreciated its art and literary significance, but desperately wanted to end so I can get back to reading about contemporary real-life tragedies and science goodness.

As you can see, the writing is absolute poetry, so dense and rich it’s almost impossible to believe that English is not Nabokov’s native tongue. And considering the subject matter, the poetry is how Lolita can work as a story. At its barest, you’re following a story about a near-40 lit professor who obsesses over prepubescent girls, marries a woman to be close to her 12-year-old-daughter Dolores, and becomes her primary caretaker / rapist. For several years. Then she dies. Everything is funneled from Humbert Humbert’s unreliable point of view, and the “nymphet” who is central to the story is never given her own voice. It was very challenging to let myself be led through the narrative by somebody who made my skin crawl. I couldn’t see Humbert as anything less than a monster – or, at the very least, I didn’t want to. The beauty of the prose couldn’t balance out the fact that I was reading about an erudite rapist who’s trying to justify a relationship with, and pin the blame on, a naive preadolescent girl. It’s ironic, I know, but it’s asking too much from me.

There are genuinely funny parts, like Humbert’s depiction of Dolores’ mother “the Haze woman,” and when he meets his double Clare Quilty right at the end, but it took me about 3 months of ugh, I should really finish Lolita to reach that part because of its lyrical density, its subject matter, and the French phrases peppered throughout that broke up the narrative for my functionally monolingual self. Plus the novel didn’t seem to be following a trajectory or building up to anything for the middle 150-or-so pages. It gets interesting again when Humbert starts cracking at the seams, but I skipped most of the poems he writes (they don’t add much, and the prose is challenging enough / more artful). I’m glad I finished it, but I don’t ever see myself revisiting it.

One more thought from my perspective as a grad student’s wife in the current economy: how could a professor of literature, rich European background or not, afford to go on a two year roadtrip and fall into a job immediately after returning? Then make enough money to go on another roadtrip just months later? In 2014, that’s the most ridiculous thing in the entire novel.

If you like dense, reference-laden prose, also tryUlysses by James Joyce.

If you don’t think you could handle Ulysses, try: The story story collection The Dubliners. Joyce is a master of beautiful prose, and it’s a shame his most inaccessible works overshadow the rest of his canon.

For further watching: Breaking Bad also challenges you to sympathize with a character who grows more evil with every new season. However, you’re shown Walter White’s redeeming qualities, and his narrative doesn’t overpower those of other characters.

Want to see a film adaptation?: try Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film. I tend to automatically assume that films are shot in an objective POV, so when I saw this a couple years ago, I found Lolita to be a complete spoiled brat. I think I’d get it now after reading the novel and knowing it’s completely Humbert’s story. However, Kubrick’s characters are so verbally reserved, and his visual style isn’t stunningly beautiful and wouldn’t echo the prose, so I think it might lose something without Humbert’s constant narration.

Upgrade!

Remember the last post where I lamented my dinosaur-age personal technology? Well, every once in a while – usually around the end of winter before spring really kicks in and it’s miserable outside – I have sudden bouts of feeling like I’m in a rut personally and professionally. I mope around for a couple days, convinced that I’m some sort of 21st-century version of the Lithuanian stockyard workers from The Jungle, and I’m perching on the edge of personal disaster. (That book was ridiculous IMO, and so is my train of thought.) Then suddenly I say “screw it, I’m going to be financially irresponsible!” and I end up doing something totally worth it. Like taking a week off to see my family. Or buying a car that enables me to live in a better apartment and get better part-time jobs in other towns and visit state parks on a whim. Or, in the case of last Tuesday, getting a Samsung Galaxy S4.

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At any rate, it’s not like the initial $100 at Best Buy and the extra $30 a month is really going to catapult me into bankruptcy / homelessness / spiraling into alcoholism and then becoming a socialist.

As an information professional, it was about time I take the leap (my mother concurred when she called me on her iPhone). And I’m so glad I just finally did it! I’m still using a paper planner because I love having the “coherent mental map” of my schedule (see this super-interesting article), but I’ve almost eliminated the handful of other little notebooks that used in an attempt at organization. Shopping lists, DVDs to see and books to read, and even my recipes are already in my pocket when I go to the library or the grocery store. With the GPS, I no longer have to print / handwrite directions, attempt to read them while driving, and hope there won’t be construction or traffic or I won’t make a wrong turn. I no longer have to spend an hour recreating my routes in MapMyRun so I can figure out my pace. Instead of half-assing my food diary and wasting time looking up the calories in broccoli, Lose It! does all the calculating and holds me accountable to a firm number each day. I’m still spending time staring at screens, but I’m reading Julie and Julia with my Kindle app instead of mindlessly refreshing my email. I have a good camera with me all the time, and instead of sitting there, uploading, then emailing or posting the photos, I can immediately share them with friends and family. My day-to-day life is honestly better with the smartphone.

I also see now that just about everything on the Internet is optimized for viewing on mobile devices. Buzzfeed’s simple page setup, for example, works well for quick reading on the phone, and Facebook’s notifications and news feed finally make sense. Candy Crush Saga, which seemed cheesy and way too slick on my laptop, is somehow gorgeous on the S4, and it’s much more fun to tap those little pieces into place than to drag and click and hope I don’t have to hit refresh. And it’s a lot easier to keep up with blogs and news feeds when apps are automatically collecting them. Not to mention the popularity of image-focused websites with infinite scrolling, like Pinterest and some Tumblrs.

I’ve downloaded and played with and deleted many apps in the last week, and here are my favorite so far:

  • Google Keep – shopping lists, short-term lists, and memos in one place, and I like the interface better than Wunderlist, Out of Milk, and S Memo
  • Google Calendar – since I still use a paper calendar as my workhorse, but I like the agenda view for my special appointments and little memos. I don’t need the power of BusinessCalendar, and the Google agenda interface is nicer than Jorte or S Calendar.
  • Lose It! – food and fitness tracking, much easier than MyFitnessPal to enter custom foods like homemade dinners, but still does calculating for me unlike Simple Calorie Counter. Plus I love the cute little icons.
  • Evernote – just because I have it already.
  • Amazon Kindle – Overdrive Media Console has nothing on the Kindle app.
  • Feedly – it’s free and unlike Flipboard and Instapaper, lets me do my own thing and doesn’t seem interested in telling me what everyone else is reading.
  • Clock – it’s just so simple to set and alter my alarms, and I like that the timer is built-in. The clouds are cuter than the morose dark colors of Alarm Clock Xtreme Free.

And I typed the entire post on the S4 as well!

(April Fool’s… I made it to about 30 words before switching to the laptop. Typing a 750-word blog post on a smartphone would be maddening.)