Thursday, May 30, 2013

Nabokov's Tree Test

There is a famous account, perhaps apocryphal, of a visit made by a student to Vladimir Nabokov’s office at Cornell. The student declares to the writer his  great desire to be a writer, too, at which point:
Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window.
'What kind of tree is that?' he asks the student.
'What is the name of that tree?' asks Nabokov. 'The one outside my window.'
'I don't know,'says the student.
'You'll never be a writer.' says Nabokov.
The Nabokov test was born. This conversation, whether or not it actually took place, came to mind the other night as I read this passage from Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety :
“A dirt road, the road I walked this morning, burrows along the hillside under overhanging trees—sugar maple and red maple, hemlock, white birch and yellow birch and gray birch, beech, black spruce and red spruce, balsam fir, wild cherry, white ash, basswood, ironwood, tamarack, elm, poplar, here and there a young white pine.”

It would appear that, despite any other failings he has as a writer, Mr. Stegner passes the Nabokov test with flying colors.

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