A Reader's Guide to Unfamiliar Literature
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A Good Place To Start

TitleVotes 
Lolita 5
Pale Fire 2
Pnin 2

A Bad Place To Start

TitleVotes 
Ada 2
Lolita 1

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Vladimir Nabokov

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Please consider recommending where to begin reading this author, or where not to. A few words about your experiences reading this author and why you make the recommendations you do will be helpful to other users. If you are the author or have studied this author extensively, please say so.

McDruid February 2nd, 2006 05:59 PM PST

Pale Fire is an amazing book. Nabakov's writing is so good that you have to stop again and again just to enjoy it.

dropo59 February 3rd, 2006 07:28 PM PST

You might as well read Lolita first. There are shorter and less complicated books and stories by Nabokov, but Lolita is a kind of acid test -- you'll love it or hate it, and if you love it the sheer story will carry you through the inimitably weird language.

bookbug November 9th, 2006 01:45 PM PST

I have been warned NOT to start with Lolita, the icky sexual politics of which (so said my cautioner) might turn me off to what a fabulous writer he is. I do find him an incredible writer (Pale Fire particularly) and am actually saving Lolita for last.

DarkJoy January 12th, 2007 12:44 PM PST

That's interesting, because I've actually heard the opposite - that it's his unbelieveable use of language that gets many people through what would otherwise be an intolerablely disturbing story.

alexismacnab March 2nd, 2010 07:43 PM PST

I second this! When I tackled Lolita I found myself thinking "I want to throw up and I can't stop reading!" In the end, despite my nausea, I loved it.

Marian February 6th, 2006 08:55 AM PST

I asked my dad, who has read everything by and about Nabokov. He suggests starting with PNIN, because "it's short and bittersweet," followed by LOLITA.

tim helck April 26th, 2006 05:30 AM PST

I started with Pale Fire because somewhere I saw this quote from it:

I am the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure of the window pane.

editor May 3rd, 2006 07:21 AM PST

I thought "Pale Fire" was going to explode in my hands. It's an amazing, fascinating, erudite, moving and formally astonishing book. Why not start there?

Heavenly October 15th, 2007 12:19 PM PST

I would say Lolita. I adore Pale Fire, but it was hard for me to start and it's very weird, with a format unlike anything else I'm aware of in literature, so it's an ambitious place to start. Lolita is more accessible, in my opinion. Ada is fabulous as well; very absorbing. I have to say, none of the others stand out that strongly in my memory. I would not recommend starting with the short stories; they're kind of boring.

alexismacnab March 2nd, 2010 07:46 PM PST

I have to respond to this: the short stories are AMAZING. I love them! (Though it's true that some blaze hotter than others.) But I do think there are short story moods, and novel moods and when you try to read one in the mood of the other you will most likely be disappointed.

Biography

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There is a thorough biography of Nobokov, with photos, at http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/bio.htm. Here are bits of it:

VLADIMIR NABOKOV [vlah-DEE-mir nah-BOA-kov], 1899-1977; novelist, poet, scholar, translator, and lepidopterist.
Born 1899 into a wealthy and aristocratic family in Russia. The family spoke French, English, and Russian in their household, and this linguistic diversity would play a prominent role in VN's development as an artist.

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