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Reading as though Reading Really Matters

Wednesday November 17, 7:30 PM
A conversation with Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reilly Room, Atherton Union, Butler University

The next in Butler University’s Visiting Writers series is a great one. No one has shaped the way I read lately more than Azar Nafisi. Her best-selling book, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, is usually seen as an indictment of the theo-totalitarian regime in Iran, and in particular the damage it does to women and free-thinkers. It is that, but it’s much more. The despots in Iran have good reason to fear the Western writers Nafisi read in secret with her students — Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Henry James, Jane Austen. Their books really do attack the bases of repressive power, they really are subversive in a deep and fundamental way. That is how the writers of the books intended them to be read, not as light entertainment, definitely not as part of a checklist of Great Novels that must be read by high school students. These books are supposed to be dangerous, and after reading Nafisi you will understand why. The evening I finished Reading Lolita, I had to actually read Lolita … and it was a very different novel than the Lolita I read 20 years ago. So was Gatsby. Thanks to Nafisi, Pride and Prejudice is now my bedtime reading, and it is indeed a more disturbing and exhilarating book than I remember. Azar Nafisi is now the director of the Dialogue Project, an initiative at Johns Hopkins to promote democracy and human rights in the Muslim world. I wonder if her American students make her long for her students in Tehran, who understood that reading really matters.

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