It was 1973, the summer of Watergate, but my mind was not on politics, but literature. While the parade of unreliable narrators told their stories on daytime television to be followed by their nightly commentators, I read, mostly Russians, mostly classics: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov. I didn’t really enjoy Chekhov, those lonely doctors, shabby and sentimental. I preferred the grandiose passions of their fathers, and thought I understood them.

There was a girl —there were still twenty-year-old “girls”

then. How long ago was it, oh, about as many springs as she was young that summer. You can always count on a thief for a fancy prose style. And you, the one with the degree, you already think you know where I’m going, you’ve already over- leaped the transition from the blunt forms of Czarist fiction into the heady flamboyance of the twentieth century.

It was actually Andrei Biely who led me to Mr. Nabokov.

Usually it’s the other way around, but I was an autodidact without benefit of …