There’s never been any kind of publicity author Gary Shteyngart hasn’t liked, but it seems the same cannot be said about Canadian fiction.
The Russian-American writer, currently making the rounds on a book tour for his new memoir, “Little Failure,” managed to dis the oeuvre of writers north of the border while being interviewed by Vulture in New York.
In response to a question about whether literary creativity should be financially subsidized, Shteyngart replied, “Let me say this. I was the judge of a Canadian prize, and it’s subsidized, they all get grants. Out of a million entries, we found four or five really good ones, but people just don’t take the same damn risks! Maybe they want to please the Ontario Arts Council, or whatever it is.”
Canadians, earnest as they are, took this off-the-cuff insinuation that Canadian fiction is well, boring, far too much to heart. The National Post ran a piece on January 9 titled, “Canadian fiction dull? Blame government: Grants creating ‘a lack of funny in this country.’”
The nebbishy Russian-Jewish character author Gary Shteyngart has cultivated both in his books and in his public persona is back yet again in the humorous book trailer for his upcoming memoir, “Little Failure.” A bunch of Shteyngart’s friends, including James Franco, Rashida Jones and Sloane Crosley, play along with him in the video.
The premise of the narrative is that no one seems to be giving poor Shteyngart any respect. First his publishers dismiss his suggestions that his memoir be titled, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mensch” or “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Jewness.” Then his “husband” James Franco steals his thunder by publishing an “erotic homage” called, “50 Shades of Gary,” before Shteyngart’s book hits the store shelves. (This plot point is not totally fictional; Franco’s debut novel, titled “Actors Anonymous” came out earlier this fall.)
To make matters worse, Shteyngart’s psychiatrist “Dr.” Jonathan Franzen labels him “Little Narcissist.” Finally, the author suffers total humiliation as everyone around him in a café reads and gushes over Franco’s book.
“Little Failure,” which officially drops on January 7, has received advance praise from a number of bestselling authors. Among them is Nathan Englander, who wrote, “If you, like me, have often wondered, ‘How did Gary Shteyngart get like that?,’ Little Failure is the heartfelt, moving, and truly engaging memoir that explains it all. Dr. Freud would be proud.”
The next work from Gary Shteyngart, the novelist known for books such as “Absurdistan” and “Super Sad True Love Story,” will be a memoir, The New York Times reports. The book will be titled “Little Failure” and will be released in January 2014 by Random House.
According to Shteyngart’s editor, David Ebershoff, the book will be a “candid and deeply poignant story of a Soviet family that comes to America in 1979 to find its future.” Shteyngart himself said in a statement that “I’ve finally written a book that isn’t a ribald satire and because it’s actually based on my life, contains almost no sex whatsoever. I’ve lived this troubled life so others don’t have to. Learn from my failure, please.”
At least Shteygart won’t have any trouble finding other writers to provide blurbs.
What is on Gary Shteyngart’s mind? Only a clairvoyant would know. It’s much easier to surmise what’s on his bookshelves.
The Strand Book Store in Greenwich Village has set up a display in which well-known writers take turns exhibiting their favorite books. In June, it looked as though a bookcase in Gary Shteyngart’s living room had come to life, strolled into the book store, and tripped, dropping all its contents neatly onto a table.
Shteyngart has bonded with the store. As he writes on the store’s website: “When I was a half-starving New York writer (1995-2002), the Strand offered salvation in its 50% off aisles, cast-off reviewer copies that lined my first IKEA bookshelves.” He adds: “I will never forget the days of saving up two $20 bills to score a whole bagful of books from the Strand, my stomach filled with cheap hot dogs and a poor man’s version of Pepto Bismol…”
The Moby Awards are everything that your typical awards ceremony is not: irreverent, un-manicured, efficient, spare, and the best part? Everyone is invited. Whimsically invented to honor the best and worst book trailers — video previews that publishers use to promote their acquisitions — it’s the kind of event that doesn’t necessarily compel its presenters or award-winners to show up, but proves to be a blast for everyone who does. Last night the Mobies were hosted for the second year in a row by the indie Melville Publishing House, this time at the Powerhouse Arena bookstore in Brooklyn.
Among the judges were Melville House co-founder Dennis Johnson, Salon book critic Laura Miller and Slate TV critic Troy Patterson, all of whom mingled over cheap wine and beer before the event. Gold spray-painted Toys ‘R’ Us whale figurines were conferred upon the largely absent winners, which included Jonathan Safran Foer (Best Small House trailer for “Tree of Codes”), Sloane Crosley (Best Trailer As Stand Alone Art Project for “How Did You Get This Number”), and Gary Shteyngart (Grand Jury/We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards for “Super Sad True Love Story”). Shteyngart, who was in attendance, accepted his whale with token, Borat-appropriated shtickiness, flinging his list of thank-yous behind him and proclaiming in the thick Russian accent he hasn’t had since adolescence: “I can’t read!”
Flavorwire previews an exhibit of sculptures by Sol LeWitt, on view in New York at City Hall Park.
Gary Shteyngart has won the Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction, the first American to ever receive the honor.
Adam Kirsch reviews “Leeches,” a novel by Serbian Jewish writer David Albahari.
In this, the second annual Forward Fives selection, we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in film, music, theater, exhibitions and books. Here we present five of the most important Jewish novels of 2010. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.
It’s been some year for Jewish fiction, though we continue to scream about, ponder and dissect what that even means. It is produced by Jewish writers, certainly, but not always. It centers on otherness, our history and culture, the nature of family and whatever we call god. It’s set in Israel or in Europe before or after the war, in New York City, England and America’s heartland. Its heroes are bold, men-children, revolutionists or the inward-looking. And like we’re boarding Noah’s ark, much of the fiction we loved this year can be discussed in pairs.
There were the young men who wrote big books that tinkered with language and form while winking at their readers. Joshua Cohen mellifluously skewers capitalism in “Witz” as he writes about the last Jew on earth. With less hubris, Adam Levin’s “The Instructions” spurred difficult conversations about religion and terrorism by tunneling into the mind of a puckish Day School student.
In Poland and Hungary, one of the largest cases of Nazi art theft remains unresolved.
Jason Schwartzman loves being “Bored to Death.”
Garry Shandling’s pioneering HBO sitcom “The Larry Sanders Show” is getting a revival on DVD.
Al Pacino brings Shylock from Central Park to Broadway.
We’ll probably be reaching Gary Shteyngart saturation soon, what with our recent review of “Super Sad True Love Story,” our forthcoming Yid Lit podcast, and of course, Shteyngart’s absurd little book trailer. But we would be remiss not to mention the new cartoon interview by Steve Sheinkin’s Rabbi Harvey with a cartoon version of Shteyngart, up today at JBooks.com. Editor Ken Gordon writes:
The cartoon you see here is one strange piece of online literary history. Gary Shteyngart — author of “Super Sad True Love Story” and a man whom Edmund White blithely dubs “our finest satirist” — appears in his first-ever illustrated interview. His interlocutor is Rabbi Harvey, of whom The New Republic writes: “Riding diffidently to our rescue, on pages printed in a subdued palette of sepia, mustard, sorrel, and beige, our hero appears in view, a thoroughly brilliant creation.” It’s the cartoon clergyman’s first interview as well (though he has done a few book reviews before: here and here). Read, if you dare, these 14 unusual pages and learn what happened when Harvey met Gary…Adjust your äppäräts, and enjoy!
Haha. Or if you’re Gary Shteyngart feigning a Russian accent in his new book trailer, it might sound more like chah-chah. Book trailers are often too long and boring: earnest author fidgeting on a Brooklyn stoop, reciting the plot of her novel. You’re watching it thinking, “Stop telling me what happens. That’s what your book is for.”
Luckily, the newly released trailer for Shteyngart’s highly anticipated third novel, “Super Sad True Love Story” (Random House), does not suffer from these problems. In fact, it has practically nothing to do with the book, a dystopic tale of a sweaty, nebbishy book-lover fighting the mire of screen addiction, cultural illiteracy and tweens in see-through jeans. And it’s full of celebrities, literary and otherwise. Like James Franco, a Jew matrilineally according to Wikipedia. The premise is that the prolific satirical fiction writer, Shteyngart, is actually a Borat-like figure who can’t read. Chah-chah. It’s very funny. You should watch it. And you should read Mark Oppenheimer’s interview with Shteyngart from our archives. And check back soon for the Yid Lit Podcast that we’re taping with him. I’ll see if I can get him to read something.