Happy Anniversary, LOLITA

The Writer’s Almanac told me that today is the anniversary of the publication of one of my all-time favorite books, Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov.

Here’s the story:

On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita was published in the United States by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. It had been published first in France, three years earlier, by Olympia Press, which mostly published erotica. The first Olympia edition of 5,000 sold out quickly, but it didn’t get any serious reviews until Graham Greene got his hands on it and wrote a review in a major London newspaper calling Lolita the best book of 1955. Then it got so much interest that the British Customs started confiscating copies coming into the country, and it was banned in various places on counts of pornography.

American publishers were reluctant to publish Lolita. The story goes that one of the young editors at Putnam had a girlfriend who was a showgirl in Paris, and she heard about Lolita and recommended it to him. That editor took it on, and when it was published, it set off a huge controversy. But it was also an immediate best-seller — reviews calling it filthy and pornographic certainly helped its sales — and it sold more than 100,000 copies in one week, the first novel that had done so since Gone with the Wind.

When someone asked him why he wrote Lolita, he said: “Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I’ve no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions.”

Happy anniversary, Lolita!

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