Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin was the first novel by Vladimir Nabokov that I read, and it's still my favorite. It made me fall in love with his use of language--I can still remember reading this paragraph over and over again: "Presently all were asleep again. It was a pity nobody saw the display in the street, where the auroral breeze wrinkled a large luminous puddle, making of the telephone wires reflected in it illegible lines of black zigzags."

The story revolves around the character of Timofey Pnin, a Russian professor who comes to America to teach at a respectable university but never quite manages to assimilate. Nabokov adds complexity by using the "unreliable narrator" device, so that you begin to wonder how much of the story is believable, how much you really know about Pnin.

Nearly all of Nabokov's backlist is being repackaged, and I have to say it's long overdue. While the older cover design contains elements that I like (the squirrel photo, the leaf in the background) it just doesn't quite come together. As for the new package, I like the bowtie, and the repetition of p's, n's, and i's. The overarching theme for the series design is the specimen box, an homage to Nabokov's love of collecting butterflies. I love this idea, though I think some of the cover executions are stronger than others. I'm also not sure how I feel about the leathery looking black border on all of them. Here's a sampling of some of my favorites:

And, for the hell of it, here are a few older Pnin covers:

The last one is pretty surreal. Overall I think my favorite is the one of the old man and two sets of buildings. Although the bowtie is pretty nice, the more I look at it. The black border isn't even so bad. I might have to buy a few of these.

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