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Strong Opinions Paperback – March 17, 1990
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Nabokov's opinions in a nutshell?
Thought everything written by James Joyce was completely mediocre except for "Ulysses," which towered above the rest of his ouvre as one of the supreme literary masterpieces of the 20th century. Loved Flaubert and Proust and Chateaubriand, did not like Stendhal (simple and full of cliches) or Balzac (full of absurdities). Loved Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" (considered it the greatest novel of the 19th century) and "Death of Ivan Illych," hated "Resurrection" and "Kreutzer sonata." Liked Gogol, despised Dostoevsky as a melodramatic mystic (he even once gave a student an F in his course for disagreeing with him). Loathed Conrad and Hemingway, but liked the description of the fish in "Old Man and the Sea" and the short story "Killers." Hated Andre Gide, T.S.Eliot, Faulkner, Thomas Mann and D.H.Lawrence and considered them all frauds. Thought Kafka was great, Orwell mediocre. Despised Camus and Sartre, considered Celine a second rater, but liked H.G.Wells.Read more ›
In his "Lectures on Literature", Nabokov mentions a character in "Bleak House", a man appearing only for a sentence or two just to help carry in from the street an old man in his chair. He gets a tuppence for his labors, tosses it in the air, catches it over-handed, and leaves. Nabokov points out that this one word, "over-handed", makes all the difference: it is a drop of color which renders even an incidental character alive. It seems that Nabokov's own public persona is similarly brought to life with the stories of borrowing a television set (which otherwise he did not watch) to see the first man landing on the Moon, or of having driven a car twice in his life (both times disastrously).
Some of the essays presented in the book are real gems. The 4-page piece "On Adaptation" is a beautiful critique of Robert Lowell's unfortunate rendition in English of Mandelshtam's famous poem.Read more ›
Here you will find, a staunch defence of why he translated Pushkin literally (and a funny damning of his erstwhile foil, Edmund Wilson's misplaced criticism; reflections on the course of his triptych life (Russia, Europe America); how his literary inspiration comes (the complete novel wells up inside him before it is written then curls itself out); a refusal to allow any social message to his work; the pleasures of writing (the tingle in the spine); his condemnation of a host of cannonical authors - Faulkner, Hemmingway, Conrad, Dostoevski etc.; and most importantly, the leitmoteif that runs through his thought, an extended diatribe against the vulgarities and pervasiveness of 'poshlost' (see p.100 in the paperback edition). If you absorb this defintition, and agree with its tenets, you will start to notice instances of poshlost spreading like a rash all over contemporary letters, films and journalism.
In addition there are a couple of beautifully written pieces on butterfly hunting, a perfect subject for Nabokov's perceptive, aesthetic mind, and a lifelong passion of his.
For Nabokov (a Russian ex-patriot and a self-proclaimed American novelist, having first hand experience with the ironclad censorship of at-the-time Russia) candid dissent was a luxury to be exercised, not cast aside. And so he delighted in American frankness and was nothing but during interviews, for why shouldn't he be? These were parlays in which his opinions were being openly solicited; not your opinions, nor mine, but his. And how bewitching these interviews are because of that!
In some of the reviews concerning this book, so much useless emphasis has been placed on Nabokov's disenchantment of the world's most regarded writers and novels (in this text); however shocking, is authentic, but there's more meat to this book than their blind grievances imply: Fascinating notes on the book and film version of "Lolita". Relenting to articulated gems within books he cared little for. Reminiscence of his youth. His love of Pushkin, butterflies, his family, lecturing, Kubrick, the USA, transiency and so on.
Nothing contrived. Everything, quite real.
If anyone holds to the notions that their favored author should reflect their personal beliefs tit for tat--really, imbeciles of the most vapid sort (scroll down past some reviews for prime examples)! You will never agree completely with Vladamir Nabokov, but that was never his intent! This man was always a "party of one", his thoughts were his own and he could have cared less whether or not people acquiesced to him. He was faithful to his family, his art and his opinion. For him (as with ourselves) that's all that matters.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this mostly to supplement my reading and, I was hoping, my understanding of "Lolita," which I've also recently read. Read morePublished on August 29, 2012 by A Certain Bibliophile
Nabakov has an incredibly strong personality and reading this book of essays/interview after completing Pnin and Lolita led some insight into how he would like his books read. Read morePublished on August 21, 2011 by MV
The title says it all. The last section of the book, some twenty pages consists of primarily lepidoptera papers which may or may not interest fiction devotees of N's fiction. Read morePublished on June 12, 2008 by Alaric
Before I first encountered STRONG OPINIONS, I was a Nabokov fan. Reading this collection, however, changed my view of him for good. Read morePublished on July 8, 2007 by Gene H. Bell Villada
An entertaining read for fans of the man, but probably not for others. Learn what it was about VN that to this day causes well-meaning fans to rave in such affected (and... Read morePublished on November 26, 1998