“Nabokov’s Butterflies” by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, edited by Robert Michael Pyle and Brian Boyd (Beacon Press, 2000)

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Last year a beautiful book became available that was apparently missed by many. Maybe it was because of length, numbering some eight hundred pages; maybe it was the unknown author, Vladimir Nabokov, whose name was unable to stir emotions in readers, prompting them to out and acquire this book; or maybe it was the title, Nabokov’s Butterflies, and this accusation (not to mention the picture of butterflies on the cover) that led the reader to steer clear of this book.

Some thought the collection entailed poems and excerpts, but mostly boring and pointless stories about butterflies and their scientific aspect.  People who fall into any of the above categories made a big mistake, and for the ones who never heard about the book: read further and then make a serious decision about acquiring this piece of unique literature.

Vladimir Nabokov was born in Russia and from an early age fell in love with butterflies.  “If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender,” writes Nabokov in an excerpt from his autobiography.  Also, at this age, Nabokov began writing poems and stories, and then he turned to novels about butterflies.  He is also the creator of stories where butterflies are incorporated into the general fiction as a metaphor or some decide to enhance an aspect about the character or point about the plot, this making the story poignant in a never before seen way.

In the story “Pale Fire,” the first of one of the stanzas in a poem is: “Another winter was scrape-scooped away.”  The writing is just so fresh, aching with beautiful language that stirs up emotions and renders one simply in awe with this awesome prose.  Another line of wisdom from Nabokov: “Whichever subject you have chosen, you must realize that knowledge of it is limitless,” from one of his lectures on writing.  So this is isn’t just an anthology of poems and stories about butterflies, but a collection containing the jewels of information that will benefit everyone.

In this anthology you will find a piece of everything that Nabokov did: excerpts from novels (including Lolita, his most famous piece of work), novellas, poems, notes, letters, lecture notes, diary entries, reviews, interviews, articles, even minutes from the Cambridge Entomological Club.  Amongst this plethora of material, there are also pieces that have never been published before, such as excerpts from the Lolita screenplay (Stanley Kubrick’s version), the second addendum to his story “The Gift,” and draft notes from an unfinished novel, The Butterflies of Europe.  Finally, there are many sketches and drawings of butterflies by the author, some in color, others in an array of colors, all overflowing in stark detail and beauty, revealing another unknown talent of the author.

In Brian Boyd’s introduction, “Nabokov, Literature, Lepidoptera,” he compares Nabokov to Beckett, calling their visions polar opposites – Beckett is polar while Nabokov is tropical – “Nabokov saw life as a ‘great surprise’ amid great surprises.”

Vladimir Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, who plays a vital part in this anthology, translating Russian pieces to English that have never been translated before, writes in his diary on July 21, 1977, shortly before Nabokov died: “A few days before he died there was a moment I remember with special clarity.  During the penultimate farewell, after I had kissed his still-warm forehead – as I had for years when saying goodbye – tears suddenly welled in Father’s eyes.  I asked him why.  He replied that certain butterfly was already on the wing; and his eyes told me he no longer hoped that he would live to pursue it again.”

So go out and get a hold of a copy of Nabokov’s Butterflies and you will be taken to a world you did not know existed, where butterflies are your guides, poems are your walking sticks, novel excerpts your pathways, and the rest completes this rich tapestry of magnificence.  You will go away as a wiser and more enlightened person with a great feeling to be owning this admirable and useful piece of literature.

Originally published on February 5th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000)

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Stephen King’s On Writing is out, so go get a copy!  Having read past the three-quarter mark already, I can veritably say that this book is a doozy.  First off, this is not an autobiography, even though it is being marketed as one.  Trust me, I have heard from Steve himself (in the book that is) and he most certainly does not want the Constant Reader to think that.

The book is just under three hundred pages long, for the simple reason that King wanted to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible, without the boring drivel that so many other authors employ.  In his words: “This is a small book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.”  There are many sections throughout the book, but it can be divided into two main parts.

The first consists of Stephen King’s life, growing up in a poor family, without a father, and with a mother who was always working.  He talks about how he spent most of his early years traveling from state to state; his family struggling to get by.  He graduated from the University of Orono, Maine with a degree in English education, but he couldn’t get a job, so he ended up working in a Laundromat, washing sheets every day.  His first story to generate a substantial income was “The Graveyard Shift.”  Then there was nothing until a publisher picked up Carrie, whereupon he began the journey to success, fame and riches, not to mention being one of the world’s bestsellers.

The second major section of the novel consists of his view on writing: what he believes to be good writing, and what he thinks one should look out for when writing, the pitfalls and hang-ups, as well as his pet peeves.  The reader also learns of how he came up with his ideas that eventually led to the lengthy novels that have given him great success throughout his career.

Now for some secrets:  the main character in Carrie was actually based on two girls Stephen King knew in high school; for the first fifteen years of his career, he was an alcoholic and a cocaine addict; he remembers nothing about writing Cujo; in Misery he is the writer and the number-one fan, Annie Wilkes, is all his problems, including the drugs and alcohol.  This helps to explain the numerous characters in his book who are either raging alcoholics or have been.  It also helps to explain some of the wickedly twisted and fucked up, yet always entertaining, ideas that he has produced throughout the years.

If you’re an aspiring writer, read it.  If you’re a published writer, you should still read it.  If you’re a fan, don’t hesitate!  And if you’re none of the above, still read it because it’s a great book.  On Writing is currently available pretty much everywhere, but the nearest location is your campus bookstore.

The book is filled with pearls of wisdom for everyone; you will not be disappointed.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on October 9th 2000 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

From the Vault

From the fall of 1999 until my graduation in summer of 2003, I worked in a variety of positions at the student-run campus newspaper at Cal State Long Beach, the Long Beach Union.  The periodical, now known as the Union Weekly, has been running pretty much in some form since 1977, and now even has a Facebook page.  Back in my day Facebook didn’t even exist!

It was with the Union that I first began reviewing books, then became the Literature Editor, requesting and received lots of review copies of books, and began a very crucial step on to creating BookBanter.

And now I’m resurrecting these reviews — as I collected every thing I ever published in the Union — and putting them up on BookBanter.  Not sure on when exactly these were written, so I’ll just have to go with the publication date.

But don’t worry, it will be piecemeal, and I don’t think there are that many of them — though we shall see — but there will be no 15+ book review posts per day.  Those days are thankfully gone.

But this trip down memory lane should be fun.