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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, March 30, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“I wandered into Lit 311 at the beginning of my sophomore year at Cornell in September 1954. It was not that I had any interest in European literature, or any literature. I was just shopping for a class that met on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings so that I wouldn't have any Saturday classes, and 'literature' also filled one of the requirements for graduation. It was officially called 'European Literature of the Nineteenth Century,' but unofficially called 'Dirty Lit' by the Cornell Daily Sun, since it dealt with adultery in Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.

“The professor was Vladimir Nabokov, an emigre from tsarist Russia. About six feet tall and balding, he stood, with what I took to be an aristocratic bearing, on the stage of the two-hundred-fifty-seat lecture hall in Goldwin Smith. Facing him on the stage was his white-haired wife Vera, whom he identified only as 'my course assistant.' He made it clear from the first lecture he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by name but by their seat number. Mine was 121 …

“He then described his requisites for reading the assigned books. He said we did not need to know anything about their historical context, and that we should under no circumstance identify with any of the characters in them, since novels are works of pure invention. The authors, he continued, had one and only one purpose: to enchant the reader. So all we needed to appreciate them, aside from a pocket dictionary and a good memory, was our own spines.”

– From “An A from Nabokov” at nybooks.com

A quiz

Nichelle Nicholas, who played Lt. Uhura, changed her mind about leaving the “Star Trek” TV series because someone talked her out of it. Who?

Wisdom of the ages

“To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.” – Aldous Huxley

Current wisdom

“Why are you so confident in that judgment? How many states permit gay couples to marry?” – Justice Antonin Scalia, on whether there has been a “sea change” in opinion on gay marriage since the Defense of Marriage Act law was enacted.

Quiz answer

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Snob words

tranche (trahnch), n. – any part, division or installment, as in: “The Obamacare bill was so long it should have released in three tranches.”

Today in history

On this date in 1981, President Reagan was wounded by John W. Hinckley Jr.

Now you know

While general vocabulary and knowledge about the world often stays sharp through one’s 70s, memory for names begins to decline as early as age 35, says RandomHistory.com.