Both books are the subject of controversy. “The Original of Laura” because it is being published against Nabokov’s dying wish that it be destroyed; Palin’s memoir “Going Rogue” because it appears against the public’s wish that it happen in the first place. Still, at Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights, in the brief fold between night and morning, on a Monday, both books arrived for early-bird purchase.
Despite the fact that Unnameable had advertised the event as “THE BIGGEST PUBLISHING NEWS SINCE THE SIMULTANEOUS PUBLICATION OF _LOLITA_ AND L.RON HUBBARD’S _DIANETICS_ ,” and had invited its patrons to “dress as your favorite character from either book” for the big launch party, the early birds numbered just six. And only one, a woman who worked at the shop, dressed up—as Palin (she put on a pair of glasses). The rest stood among the warm, wooden shelves of Unnameable, where, in the sadly fading tradition of exotic independent bookstores, sections such as “Used Divination, Astrology, and Dreams” exist and patrons can indulge late-night readings of “Anal Pleasure and Health” or “Celebration of Awareness” without fear of recrimination. A post-it note on the cash register reads “Small bills will get you far.” One wishes. Small numbers seemed to be expected. Adam Tobin, the shop’s owner, had ordered only three copies of “Going Rogue” and ten of “The Original of Laura.” They went fast.
A blogger from Jezebel snatched up a copy of the Palin, for a review, and agreed to read from it. Tobin read from the Nabokov. “The Original of Laura” is composed of facsimiles of Nabokov’s drafts, famously composed on index cards, along with a transcription. Perforated edges allow one to punch the cards from the hardcover and arrange them as they like (that between the Nabokov and the Palin it’s the Nabokov that involves an interactive game is surprising).The reading restored the writers’ reputations: Nabokov, even read out of context, rose to poetry; Palin, in context, did not. Recounting meeting Todd Palin (the former First Dude), she writes, “I actually whispered, ‘Thank you, God.’” Todd was, after all, the “best basketball player Wasilla ever had.”
Palin is an easy target, and poor anyone whose writing (ghost or otherwise) is held up to Nabokov’s, even work he would have sooner seen incinerated. The writer from Jezebel finished with a portion about that darn liberal media attacking Palin’s family, which she saw as far worse than attempts on her “own hide.” From the grave, Nabokov chimed in, “We are above petty revenge.” We’ll see in 2012.