Transparent Things, Vladimir Nabokov


After the last book, I needed some brain fuel, so I turned to Vladimir Nabokov. This is not the longest book, but that just means the brilliance is condensed.

This book is about a fellow named Hugh Person who makes several separate trips to Europe throughout his life. I’ve been reflecting a bit about the title, Transparent Things. Nabokov was a synesthete – he saw letters in specific colours. Knowing this little fact about him brings his writing into clearer focus. There’s a scene early in this book where he describes a pencil in minute detail. Not a fancy pencil, just an ordinary one. He talks about it for a page and a half. It is the most beautiful, lush description of a pencil you will ever read.

People don’t really think about pencils. Maybe writers do, because they so often have pencil in hand (John Steinbeck wrote about pencils in Travels with Charley), but for most of us pencils are a ‘transparent thing,’ something we look through, although they have a rich history of their own. Where did that pencil come from? Nabokov saw those everyday objects in so many more dimensions than the rest of us, and it made his writing perfect. Sure, the characters in this book don’t really grow or change. But every sentence is perfect. Every word is the exact word that needed to be there to create the most beautiful paragraph or to casually wrench from the reader the particular emotion he wanted to elicit. Brain fuel, pure and simple.

Books read: 7


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