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Out of the Pale Fire and into the frying pan

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.

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