What I’m Reading Now

Another in an occasional series. As I mentioned in September, I borrowed two books from the hospital to take on the California trip. One was The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I enjoyed (see “Ya-Yas on Vacation, October 17, 2009) but considered not exactly serious literature.

The other book that I took along but never opened was Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. Azar Nafisi was a professor of English when the fundamentalists in Iran began cracking down. Western literature could only be taught in a certain way. Women had to wear headscarves and couldn’t go out without a close male relative. She and her family experienced oppression first when members of the Revolutionary Committee invaded their house in an effort to arrest a man who lived next door. The committee returned some days later and seized their illegal satellite dish.

In the face of repressions large and small, she and a brave group of young women, and one man, met once a week in her house to discuss Western literature. As the title makes clear Lolita was among the books they read. Their perception of a book by a man who had also escaped repression but seemed to choose decadence is fascinating. Their reading included other works by Nabokov as well as the novels of Henry James, Jane Austen, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and many more.

At seventy pages into a three hundred plus page book, I wish I could take a course from Professor Nafisi. Her passion for literature and the depth of her knowledge make reading this book sheer pleasure. Her perceptiveness will send me back to many of the works, though probably not Lolita. I’ll want to keep her book at hand when I revisit the canon. And I’m fascinated that this expert, insightful woman loves the truly decadent Jim Morrison and the Doors. “Love Me Two Times, Babe”?!)

I was discussing the book with a friend who couldn’t understand why Nafisi had put so much emphasis on Lolita. On a theoretical level, it symbolizes twentieth-century American decadence, but I thought the reason was more expedient. If the title had been Reading Pnin in Tehran, or Reading Pride and Prejudice in Tehran, the tension would be gone because fewer people know Pnin, which I think is a better work of fiction and will probably revisit. And of course Pride and Prejudice evokes images of prissy and repressed England during the Regency, though Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett is just as caustic as Timofey Pnin. But in using Lolita in her title, Nafisi balanced the cultural and political repression of the Islamic Republic against western decadence as expressed in literature. Plus Lolita in the title undoubtedly sold more books. That’s is always the point, isn’t it?


3 Responses to “What I’m Reading Now”

  1. Betsy Says:

    The ever wise adage…Sex Sells! I am convinced that is why so many diet books are sold each year…every woman wants to look sexy.

  2. lizr128 Says:

    Ain’t that the truth!

  3. What I’m Reading Now « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] it I do want to do justice to a magnificent literary work. I’ve already commented briefly (See “What I’m Reading Now” […]

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