Edmund White Thinks Most People Misread ‘Lolita’

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Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Yiyun Li, Rachel Cusk, Deborah Eisenberg, Colm Toibin, Ottessa Moshfegh, Annie Ernaux, Alan Hollinghurst, Andrea Bajani, Andres Barba, Joyce Carol Oates, Tracy K. Smith, John Irving, Richard Powers, Tom Beller.

Do you have any comfort reads?

No, I’m too serious. As a Midwestern public library intellectual, I read only for self-improvement.

Do you think any canonical books are widely misunderstood?

“Lolita.” Nabokov’s job in the book is to make you like the monstrous Humbert Humbert. In the 1960s readers were too swinging to see how evil he was and now readers are too prudish to see how charming he can be.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

That Racine was a rotten fellow.

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

Evil gays.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

They must do both to interest me. For instance, George Eliot and Marcel Proust are writers who understand politics, the history of the arts, moral philosophy but can render the force of the passions.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

Literary fiction and good biographies are my favorite. I don’t read murder mysteries — I’ve always been too nerdish for that.

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