Lolita is a Hell of a Book

Lolita 1962 film Stanley Kubrick


The book I read this weekend, which I am embarrassed not to have read already, was “Lolita.” Something stands out to me about this book — what is it? Oh yes. It is DIRTY. Dirty as aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks. Dirty dirty dirty. It surprises me when classic literature is dirty. Actually, even modern books — I always get this “hey now” moment the first time a novel has sexual content or the eff word or anything. The reason for this is probably as simple and dense as the fact that there’s no MPAA rating on a book — if it’s not in the “romance” section (AKA “porn for girls”; you have no idea what you’re getting into. But I think for me there’s also an element that books are things in libraries and on shelves and maybe in bars if you’re trying to hit on someone wearing glasses.

Very, very carefully.

Probably this comes from the fact that, growing up, I didn’t read many classics unless they were on a school reading list. So you go from “Summer of My German Soldier” to “A Wrinkle in Time” to “Where the Red Fern Grows” to “The Once and Future King,” and nothing crosses your plate that would make your parents blush to know you were reading it.

I`m reminded of the fact that I had to read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” three times in my academic career. Three. Times. I don’t think it does much good to make sure your students are exposed to African-American authors if its practice is so totally perfunctory that it translates to the same one THRICE.



I expected Humbert Humbert to be more tragic and bewildered, and not so gleefully, remorselessly evil — probably because in that one version he was played by Jeremy Irons, and Jeremy Irons is Crown High Prince of Tragic and Bewildered. I expected there to be a lot of longing and maybe some seducing and not a non-stop travelogue of gratification and crime.

Orr-bit cleans up a duhty movie.

But what surprised me even more is how modern this book is–the humor, the delivery, and the way it sets you up to like this horrible dude. All these Hollywood dudes who can’t pull off a dark comedy need a seminar with “Lolita” and A Life Less Ordinary and maybe if they behave the highlights from Clue. Seems to me dark makes everything better (see treatise on Spiderman 2) but dark for dark’s sake sucks me like a hurricane (see L.A. Confidential, which deserves a complete heckling, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, which managed to suck furiously despite having Billy Bob Thornton AND James Gandolfini AND Tony Shalhoub. Where’s the fraud, waste and abuse hotline for movies?)

I should be surprised I`m surprised. I read a kickin` article from MAD magazine (or maybe from when MAD was a comic; probably contemporary with this novel, that parodied the contrast between books and movies. F`rinstance the book’s murder is splattery and graphic, whereas the movie’s is bloodless and off-screen (also the book’s mistress is gangly, freckled and pigtailed, and the movie’s looks like Veronica Lake). It was illustrated by Jack Davis, so you know it was good.

I`m thoroughly off the subject now. That’s OK, I think — if I tried to offer a more formal critique of this little-known libertine tract called “Lolita” I`d embarrass myself to death. I keep writing down words I don’t know (etiolate, phocine and inutile among them — it weighs on my mind that someone should know more words in a third language than I in my first) so I can look them up later.


Draws. Sweats. Eats too much sugar-free candy.

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  1. Kay says:

    Remember Forever by Judy Blume? That started the whole “hey now” for me….what`s worse is I think I still remember that it`s page 83 that has the really juicy bits (and I haven`t held the book in a couple of decades). Now I must read Lolita (what with my husband out to sea and all). Thanks for the tip!

  2. nsasson says:

    Talk about a “hey now” moment…. When I read Judy Bloom`s “Are You There God, it`s Me Margaret”, I had to ask my mom what it meant for a girl to have her period. And I was 16! (divided by 2) (BTW, Lolita hands down contains the greatest writing I have ever read. Knowing that English was Nabokov`s second language, I feel utterly inadequate… This is pretty sad, but I actually remember keeping a dictionary beside me while reading Lolita because I swear I encountered an unfamiliar word every other page. As it turned out, most of them were synonyms for girl parts or dirty deeds, but I digress…) oops, sorry for posting twice. me be new to these parts 🙂

  3. lis says:

    heh, their eyes were watching god had some iffy parts… involving a pear tree, i seem to recall…

  4. Jenn says:

    This was exactly how I felt upon reading Lolita last year. Totally blown away. It was awesome. …I`m also really enjoying your site a lot, thinking I might start reading regularly.

  5. Farseer says:

    “I`m reminded of the fact that I had to read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” three times in my academic career.” My threepeat in school was “The Hiding Place.” More proof that religion is an acceptable replacement for intelligence. It was so pathetic. All through eighth grade, the kids look around like deer in headlights, but they KINDA catch on to this book because the major theme through it is faith in God and his plan, and the teacher is SOOOO happy to see anyone awake, she has us read it AGAIN, this time along with the audio tape. God damn some people…

  6. Alena says:

    I`ve made somewhat of a point to read classics, and the ones that intrigue me most are those that were considered controversial for their times. Of course, this usually means books of a sexual nature, like Anais Nin, though I admit I haven`t yet read `Lolita`. It`s really late/early and of course I can`t think of any titles, only the stories and what the book covers looked like, but to be honest, none of those books carried much shock factor when actually reading them. I guess I prepared myself for something graphic using a filter of our day and age, and what I found was much more tame. I stop posting now and go to bed.

  7. the gold state Paul says:

    Lolita is my favorite, favorite, schmavorite book for sure. This is probably a dumb question, but have you seen Kubrick`s movie version of Lolita? It`s far from being perfect and it`s a lot different from the book (a lot of the differences, I understand, were due to restrictions put into place by the movie executive types) but it`s still great on many levels and certainly worth seeing. It`s from 1960, for crying out loud. How similar to the book could it have possibly been? Peter Sellers plays Quilty, by the way, and he`s hilarious, but his stealing of the show is, ironically, one of the movie`s weak points.

  8. nicole says:

    well i guess lolita is my favorite movie because i look like her a bit.i`m blond,and i have blue eyes,i`m thirteen years old and i`m a ninphet.everybody who have already watched this movie says”you remind me sue lyon a lot”,i`m brazilian that`s why i don`t know how to speak english so good,i`m sorry!

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