For all its sexual perversity, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is at heart a master send-up of the particularities of mid-20th-century American culture. It is a measure of the genius of the non-native English-speaking Nabokov that he crafted the novel’s dazzling prose, of course, but it is just as impressive that this Russian-born writer captured the nuances of an alien culture with such precision and wit. In his new study, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita, Robert Roper focuses on the émigré’s time in the United States and how it gave birth to his most famous book.
In Dead White Guys, Matt Burriesci distills the timeless, sometimes challenging wisdom of The Great Books of the Western World into 26 lessons for his young daughter.
While they are often roped together as Western or regional writers (narrow classifications they both loathed), and their prime writing years and geographic terrain overlapped to a degree, there could not have been two more different writers—or men—than Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey.
J.C. Hallman had only a passing awareness of writer Nicholson Baker when he quite impulsively became obsessed with the man and his work. He not only had erroneously thought that Baker was British, but considered him a “nonessential” writer. That indifference changed into fixation nearly overnight. Hallman plunged into all of Baker’s fiction and nonfiction, a project that morphed into the deeper contemplation of literature and life that he chronicles with candor, humor and insight in B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal.
Many readers first encounter the work of Langston Hughes in school but may not revisit it much beyond that early exposure. A seminal voice in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes lives on in a handful of widely anthologized poems, but the vast majority of his prolific output goes unread. His literary light has waxed and waned since his death in 1967, but the publication of the Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, as well as a new edition of his first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues, could help spur renewed interest in Hughes and his work.
After establishing that he’s not any of the Andy or Andrew Millers you might have heard of, this English Andy Miller introduces his ambitious vow to read 50 great books within a year—and, better still, to chronicle the struggles and discoveries involved along the way. This he does with candor and good humor
If you’re shopping for a book-obsessed guy or gal who geeks out over all things literary, then you’ve turned to the right page. The holiday selections featured below offer the sort of author anecdotes, book-related trivia and top-notch storytelling that bibliophiles are wild about.
In our media-saturated Age of Celebrity, it can be hard to fathom that there was once a time when people were not famous merely for being famous. While today we think of Oscar Wilde as an eminent playwright and novelist, he was one of the first self-made public figures, who crafted his persona and gained widespread renown long before he had done anything of much note. An early impetus behind his fame was a lecture tour he made to the United States in 1882, when he was only 27 years old and the author of one tepidly reviewed, self-published volume of verse.
War and Peace. The very title incites both awe and no small measure of dread in many a reader’s heart. Indisputably one of the major achievements of the western literary canon—many would argue the greatest—Tolstoy’s masterwork is daunting in length and scope. At some 1,500 pages (depending on the typeface, of course), divided into 361 chapters, with nearly 600 characters, its sprawling narrative spans the eight years of Napoleon’s 1805-1812 invasion of Russia and beyond. It is a perennial bestseller, but how many who buy it actually read it?
This cloak-and-dagger account reveals the intriguing details of how the novel Doctor Zhivago came to be published during the height of the Cold War. Written by Russian poet Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago was kept under wraps by its author, who feared retribution from the Soviet government for the book’s critical portrayal of the 1917 Russian Revolution and its tepid treatment of socialism.