Vladimir Nabokov
Random House, New York, 2011; originally published 1955, English
ISBN: 9780679410430

When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause celebre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov's wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the 20th century's novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author's use of that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness. Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit--abound in this account of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America, but most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

On 7 book lists
Chip Kidd

Certainly one of the best novels of the 20th century, it’s also a brilliantly withering observation of America’s descent into (and embracement of) kitsch. The descriptions of Humbert and Lolita’s feverish car trips across the country read as if Dante were lost in an endless J. C. Penney’s.

Peter Mendelsund

Lesson(s) learned: Humor and profundity can coexist. And: Style matters.

Michael Rock

The author I most turn to when in need of reinvigorating my sentences. No one composes better ones in English (nor in Russian, I suspect). In addition, Nabokov masters contemporary forms and vernaculars. Lolita combines, in an almost painful way, the hilarious and the unconscionable. I have read it five times over the years and each time I find more in it. His love of language is unequaled. (Also see Nabokov’s other novels, including Pnin, Pale Fire, and Ada.)

Inga Sempé

One cries, one laughs, one is surprised. Nothing is caricature in this book. It is not a societal portrait—it is a portrait of characters who are not meant to show an example or give a message. This is what I want from books: to be taken away, transported. (I’m afraid that if Nabokov were to publish this book today he would be accused of being a pedophile and sent to jail.)

Michael Sorkin

America unpacked with hilarious, amazingly fluid style.

Massimo Vignelli

Incredibly beautiful writing, accurately painful.

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