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Thread: How best to read Pale Fire?

  1. #1
    Registered User xaqxit's Avatar
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    How best to read Pale Fire?

    Kinbote himself makes several suggestions in the Foreword, but are we meant to take any of these.

    My question is basically, should the poem be read first before consulting the commentary, the other way around, or should one read lines in the poem then read corresponding lines in the commentary as one goes along.

    Also when should one actually read the index?

    I understand there is no "should" or "shouldn't" and that's all part of the fun, but I just want to know what everyone else (who has read, or tried to read the book) did, or thinks is the best way to go about it.

    If it helps, I have two copies, and if it's worth cutting and pasting lines manually, it could be a fun project, since one of my copies only cost me $1. Actually, nevermind that will take too long, heh. But I'm still open to using two coppies to make the whole affair less page-flipping-intensive.

    Thanks!

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    Banned Turk's Avatar
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    I didn't like that novel. If you'd ask "how to not to read Pale Fire?" i could simply answer you "just throw it to junk". But whatever, poem is really long so it's hard to memorize it and recall in the later parts of the novel. So i think cutting would help if you have one extra copy to waste.

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    Joanna F.Emerald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Turk View Post
    I didn't like that novel. If you'd ask "how to not to read Pale Fire?" i could simply answer you "just throw it to junk".
    :O That just broke my heart a little bit.

    I actually read the poem twice, then read the commentary afterwards. I thought it was wonderful, and very worthwhile indeed
    I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me.
    It resembles my own mind except that you happen to be insane.

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    Banned Turk's Avatar
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    It was too tiring and mixed up and it was destroying all enjoyment, i like to read novels, not solving puzzles you know.

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    Joanna F.Emerald's Avatar
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    I understand, it's only that, as a devoted Nabokov fan, hearing ''throw it to junk'' about any of his work is slightly devastating, if not sacrilegious...in my little world. I realise that it's your opinion, but don't you think claiming that it's 'junk' is a bit too harsh? Or lets just say untrue, haha.
    I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me.
    It resembles my own mind except that you happen to be insane.

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    Banned Turk's Avatar
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    Hmmm. You are right. I think.

    Xaqxit, put that novel to the top of your library so you will never be able to reach it again.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    I think that it was meant to be read from front to back, with referencing back to the poem. Kinbote's suggestions are as trustworthy as his commentary. There are parts that I liked very much, but some of the commentary was as boring aswriting could be. I realize that it was boring for a reason, but it was difficult to read.

  8. #8
    mind your back chasestalling's Avatar
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    i tried flipping back and forth from the poem to the commentary to no profit. it reads just as well if not better when read sequentially from the foreword to the poem and then to the commentary. kinbote's madness takes some getting used to however so that a sedulous rereading is a must.
    Last edited by chasestalling; 06-19-2007 at 09:07 AM.

  9. #9
    Registered User xaqxit's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the suggestions on how to read (and how not to read) Pale Fire.

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    bump

    I think there are several ways to read it, and each one gives different rewards. For a first read, I would recommend reading the Foreward, then one Cantos of the poem, followed by the commentary for that Cantos. This allows you to first experience the poem in its unannotated form, but also keeps it fresh in your mind for the commentary.

    Be sure to look back at the poem when reading the commentary, because some of the funniest and also most biting comments by Kinbote are only meaningful if you realize exactly what in the poem is being referenced.

    Also, I would mention that you can consider this book one of the first hypertexted novels, 40 years ahead of its time. In that spirit, I also recommend jumping around when Kinbote urges you to "see the note for line 804", etc. I believe Nabokov meant for the reader to look ahead as a form of foreshadowing.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by xaqxit View Post
    Kinbote himself makes several suggestions in the Foreword, but are we meant to take any of these.
    That tells you the answer. One should never trust anything that Kinbote says. I think that it is best read from start to finish.

    My question is basically, should the poem be read first before consulting the commentary, the other way around, or should one read lines in the poem then read corresponding lines in the commentary as one goes along.

    Also when should one actually read the index?
    The poem is the basis for the novel, so reading it first puts things into perspective. While reading the commentary, I sometimes looked back at the poem to remind myself about it.

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    Peter, you mention that you thought parts of it were as boring as could be - I would suggest that is because you read it from start to finish and lost a great deal of the complexity, humor, and cross references by doing so.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by sammy8 View Post
    Peter, you mention that you thought parts of it were as boring as could be - I would suggest that is because you read it from start to finish and lost a great deal of the complexity, humor, and cross references by doing so.
    That is possible, but reading it from front to back seemed logical and quickly showed me how deluded Kinbote was. Perhaps the funniest part of the novel was the continual descent of Kinbote. Then there were the amazing misinterpretations that he dreamed up. I thank that one of the pints of the novel was how breezily some people misinterpret literature.

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    I am currently reading this novel for an advanced English class. It is, as one of the previous posts noted, this novel is indeed ahead of its time. It is also a critical text (and a very sarcastic, jibing one) on how literati read literature. Therefore, it is almost related to satire. You could potentially read the novel the way that Kinbote suggests. But Kinbote is very clearly obsessed with himself, so you should be wary of blindly following anything that he says.

    It is a slow novel. It is also the kind of novel with so many layers, you can reread it for the rest of your life and always find something new. It is a novel designed to have you referencing and cross referencing.

    The article on wikipedia (yes, I know, wikipedia...) makes an interesting argument.

    "Some readers, starting with Mary McCarthy and including Boyd, Nabokov's annotator Alfred Appel, and D. Barton Johnson, see Charles Kinbote as an alter-ego of the insane Professor V. Botkin, to whose delusions John Shade and the rest of the faculty of Wordsmith College generally condescend. Nabokov himself endorsed this reading, stating in an interview in 1962 (the novel's year of publication) that Pale Fire "is full of plums that I keep hoping somebody will find. For instance, the nasty commentator is not an ex-King of Zembla nor is he professor Kinbote. He is professor Botkin, or Botkine, a Russian and a madman." The novel's intricate structure of teasing cross-references leads readers to this "plum"." <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Fire>.

  15. #15
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    I read the foreword, poem, then the commentary, referring back to the poem sometimes.

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