One of the highlights of new releases in poetry this fall is a long poem by John Shade that begins with the remarkable line “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain.” It’s all the more remarkable because John Shade does not exist.
Shade is a creation of Vladimir Nabokov, and his 999-line poem is the start of Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire. Shade has (in the novel) died, and the balance of Pale Fire is taken up with commentary on the poem by his friend, Charles Kinbote. But Kinbote is obviously off his rocker, and he has something to get off his chest. Did he murder John Shade? Is he John Shade? Nabokov scholars have spent almost 50 years debating the fictional relationship. An author never had more fun playing with his audience.
Now, Slate reports that the small poetry press Gingko is publishing the fictional poem (also called “Pale Fire”) –- that is, about one-quarter of Pale Fire — under the name John Shade. This with the blessing of Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, who caused a stir last year with the posthumous release of his father’s novel The Original of Laura, which Vladimir had ordered to be incinerated.
This edition of “Pale Fire” –- the poem –- will include commentary from a Nabokov scholar, Brian Boyd. Take a moment to appreciate the meta-mess: Nabokov’s Pale Fire is about a completely deranged attempt at interpreting a poem. Now, a realscholar will interpret that same poem. It’s as though Nabokov had the whole thing planned all along.
Remember Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Kurt sat down with the up-and-coming Nigerian writer last December – on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart – to ask how it felt being called the “21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe.” Her answer? Pretty good. Now Adichie’s come out with a wonderful new collection of short stories called The Thing Around Your Neck. She read a selection from her story “The Shivering” at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May – it’s subtle, funny, touching. Check it out (and start one minute in to get right to the story).
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Listen to a rebroadcast of Kurt’s conversation with Chimamanda here:
This week on Studio 360 we take a look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic The Great Gatsby. We might not like to admit it, but Gatsby’s popularity–and its iconic status–has more than a little to do with length. It’s short (a brilliantly compact 182 pages), easily finished in a weekend. Not so the late novelist David Foster Wallace’s masterwork Infinite Jest. Jest is LONG — a bone fide doorstop at 1,000 pages — and that’s not counting the 100 or so pages of endnotes. (That’s right, endnotes…in a novel.) But for those gutsy enough to take on infinite pages this summer, help has arrived! Infinite Summer an online book club/support group launched last month aims to help you take your summer reading to the next level by harnessing the awesome power of peer pressure. Keep track of your reading progress with page counts and pie charts, and fortify yourself with encouraging words from fellow literary ironmen and women (among them, Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy). Happy reading!