Last week I was looking for my boss when I noticed Nabokov’s Pale Fire on a colleague’s desk. I asked her, “Are you reading this?” Realizing how condescending that sounded, I tried to make a joke of it and added, “Or what?”
“It’s not for decoration,” she said. She explained she and two coworkers sitting nearby were reading it for their book club. I asked how she liked Nabokov and she said she couldn’t finish Lolita.
“It’s probably because you’re a woman,” I said. I heard my words resonate through the office as if on a loudspeaker.
I immediately tried to clarify what I meant: I could imagine how distasteful it would be for a woman to read a terrible man’s story from his obtuse and self-serving point of view. But I worried that that explanation sounded like a description of the explanation itself.
She let it pass and invited me to join their book club. “What’s the next book?” I asked.
“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”
I politely declined and scurried back to my desk.