How to Read “Lolita” as a Trauma Survivor

  1. Don’t.
  2. Seriously, if you can avoid it, don’t. There is no literary work of any staggering merit worth your well being.
  3. If you must, try to recognize that the book is, for better or worse, part of canonical literature. If you must read Lolita, disregard Humbert Humbert’s claim that it’s a love story. You know better. It’s a horror story written from the monster’s point of view. The scariest thing is that the villain bears no marking scars and claims no tragic backstory. He offers no pathology for the evil he visits upon his victim. The scariest thing is the truth of fiction.
  4. Since this is an academic requirement (why else except for simple masochism would you be doing this to yourself?), separate the work from the author, the assignment from the professor.
  5. Read it in the middle of the night with comfort food and coffee. You clearly won’t be sleeping anyway. Might as well do something more productive than slow blinking at the ceiling all night.
  6. Speaking of assignments, take a lesson: The world will always make more room for shitty dudes than the people they hurt.
  7. Surviving is what you’ve been assigned by your life and your abuser. All you must do to pass is keep living.
  8. To the end of surviving: Do what you must. Self care and endurance look different for everyone and anyone who wants to judge yours can fuck right off.
  9. Take the best care of yourself (through the reading of Lolita and beyond, obviously) that you can. If that seems pointless or hard, consider doing it in order to be a better resource for the people that you love, especially when your own mental health looks more like Pollock than Vermeer.
  10. Let this trash book do what it will for you. If you’re pissed off, let it kindle the fires of your rage. If you’re reaching for compassion or forgiveness, you’re a better person than me. But … y’know. Best of luck.
  11. Consider taking a lot of breaks from reading. Read outdoors or in the company of a fluffy dog or protective spouse.
  12. Take a lot of day naps. Do you know how much less scary it is to wake up when you can see the room around you?
  13. Know that you aren’t the first of us to read Lolita. Know that the book ends and life goes on. That there are other books to bury yourself in like a security blanket.
  14. Watch a lot of really dumb TV. I suggest bookending your reading with cartoons and breakfast cereal.
  15. Predatory behavior isn’t okay and abusive men aren’t romantic. You’ve known this. Correct people who misread the text and don’t get that the whole point of having been written in first person was to create an unreliable narrator, not to craft an unlikely love story.
  16. Know when to put the book down. It’s a book, an assignment, a grade. Your life, your sanity, and your well being are worth more. There are no exceptions to this.

Sawyer Lovett is a writer who lives in Philadelphia with his wife, a dog and a hedgehog. He’s a part-time bookseller and a full time MFA student who occasionally reviews books for Kirkus and Lambda Lit. He is the author of two books and his work has appeared in Apiary, Hoax, and Cleaver.

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