I recently started reading Nabokov’s rather old collection of autobiographical essays, covering various aspects of his life, but not of his works.
I have to say that I am rather taken with it. It is extremely well-written and provides such a vivid account of the events and circumstances that one has to remind oneself that this is not a fictional account (although it, of course, is as any autobiographical account). I knew bits of the story but I think this has been a real discovery.
I think I first discovered Nabokov as a writer that I truly enjoyed when I read Pnin, a book every aspiring academic must read. Then came more – I distinctly remember not reading Lolita (I still haven’t), but very much enjoying King, Queen, Knave – but I think this particular collection stands out on its own and can be appreciated by anyone with even a modicum of taste for well-written prose. Mind you not what is taken for “clear prose” these days, but truly great prose, the kind that makes you want to write down entire sentences and memorize them.
Nabokov came from a very privileged background, so the parts where he longs for his privileged childhood and its circumstances and bemoans the Soviet take-over are hard for me to sympathize with. But even there he manages to come out as a rather reflective and not whiney type of a writer. His description are distant and cold at times, but then they are intentionally such. One imagines an intelligent old man telling a story after a story over a glass of brandy – I fear that after I finish this one, I might go on some epic Nabokov kick and stop reading everything else altogether.