Teaching Rape

girl in the hat

13960395169_ab2626a0b5_o image courtesy Lynn Skordal

The first day of the first time I taught Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov to an AP English class at Berkeley High School, I stood in front of the room reading chapter one aloud, the one that starts like this:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

You get a lot of bang for your buck reading Lolita out loud. Those are words to make your mouth water. They involve all the softest, wettest, sharpest parts of your mouth, and like that tongue, the language taps many levels—sensual, cerebral, and taboo, possibly in that order. Nabokov’s novel (a bestseller when it came out in 1955 and still selling well) is so notorious that even those who…

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