In his lifetime, Vladimir Nabokov travelled widely, logging many years each in St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Ithaca, New York, where he wrote Lolita while teaching at Cornell. His peripatetic history explains why few people know he spent a summer in Utah, during which he spent a lot of time chasing butterflies and fishing in the streams. In The American Scholar, an excerpt of Nabokov in America, an upcoming book by Richard Roper. You could also read our own Garth Risk Hallberg on Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor.
“‘I think she is better than J. L. Borges—who is good, but not all that good!” said poet Elizabeth Bishop of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Bishop was one of Lispector’s first English translators, but also one of her fiercest critics. Alexandra Pechman writes for the Poetry Foundation about their literary rivalry and grudging respect. Pair with Magdalena Edwards’s Millions review of Lispector’s The Complete Stories.
Year in Reading alumnus Alexander Chee writes about the impulse to write fiction, his first novel, and unpublished manuscripts in an essay for the Center For Fiction’s Why Fiction Matters series. “The first story I ever invented for public consumption was in a book report back in grade school. I had made a vow to read every book in my grade school library, and at some point, as I made my way through them, I remember very clearly understanding that there was simply no way my teacher would know about every book ever published—this was before the Internet—and so I decided I would make one up and see if she noticed.” Pair with this Millions piece, featuring six writers looking back on their first novels.
In January, I wrote about the release of William Styron’s letters, which reveal, among other things, that Styron requested a book on Nat Turner after visiting “the most enormous house [he’d] ever seen” in Cornwall. At the Times Literary Supplement, you can read more.
Do you love poetry, but often wish you were monitored on more government watchlists? Well, now you can scratch both of those itches by purchasing Poetry of the Taliban, a new anthology endorsed by and published on the group’s website. Unsurprisingly, the book has garnered its share of criticism, but as Melville House’s Kelly Burdick notes, it also has a coalition of allies and proponents.