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“My characters are galley slaves,” Vladimir Nabokov bragged in the pages of Strong Opinions. He was railing against the notion that characters in novels “take on a life of their own” for their creators, authors often unaware of what that person on the page may do next. Nabokov was having none of it.

This is because he was an egotist. Each of the figures in Nabokov’s books is a separate and slightly distorted mirror of Nabokov. Humbert Humbert is VN as sociopath, Pnin is VN but clueless, John Shade is Nabokov the great poet. Ada and Look at the Harlequins tell no stories and hold no people in them: they’re merely fountains of solipsism designed to soak the reader in Nabokov’s self-regard — no extra charge for the big words and little girls. I’m not sure whether he could have created a “believable” character unlike himself even if he’d wanted to. But the spirit was not willing. More… “Chillin’ with DeLillo”

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work in Sculpture, Bookforum, and The The Poetry Foundation. Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net.
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If you were stuck in 23-hour daily lockdown in a federal prison, you might think a book would be a most welcome companion. You might think it would take a lot to make you despise that book. But Barrett Brown begs: “Stop sending me Jonathan Franzen novels.” (The Intercept)

Imagine Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis. If you read it in English, you may see a cockroach or a giant beetle, but that may not be as Kafka intended. And Vladimir Nabokov didn’t care. (Open Culture)

While Pixar’s shiny, cartoonish animation style has an avid fan base, old-style hand animation has a charm that just can’t be replicated without hours of frame-by-frame work — until now. Microsoft has just unveiled a new tool that simplifies and digitizes the process, and it’s mesmerizing to watch. (Wired)

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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If you haven’t seen the photos of Pluto, go look at them. If you have, go look again. The NYT has packaged them beautifully.

Also: how Pluto changed how we saw the solar system, and why we’ve never lost our enthusiasm for space travel.

Collector’s Weekly on the existential conundrum (and history) of the American waste-paper basket.

Gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman’s portraits of birds on the verge of extinction.

Nabokov said there is no reading, only rereading. Tim Parks doesn’t quite agree, but thinks he’s found the key to an illuminating reread, practicing with The Waste Land and Mrs. Dalloway. •

Diane Pizzuto is the art director and managing editor of The Smart Set.
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