Gary Shteyngart is Pretty Damn Cool


Someone once called me a Gary Shteyngart groupie, and as I fought the LA traffic at 6:30 pm on a weeknight to get to his reading at the LA Central Library I had to agree, at least to some degree. I've read, and loved, his three novels, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Absurdistan, and, his most recent, Super Sad True Love Story. I'd sneak into his class if I was ever near Columbia, and, obviously, I'm willing to drive over 120 miles round trip to hear him read. In the literary world, this is being a groupie. So be it.

The reading was at the Los Angeles Central Library in the downtown area and was put on by the ALOUD program, which I've confessed my love for before. They do an outstanding job putting on programs, many free, featuring amazing authors like Isabel Allende, Michael Cunningham, and Ian McEwan. It's always great to be around fellow readers, and I love seeing the diverse crowd they always attract.

This particular reading proved to be quite humorous, not surprising given the fact that Shteyngart's books make me literally laugh out loud, something most novels fail to do. He read his excerpt expertly, complete with Russian accents- you could tell by the tattered papers he held that he done this a time or two (surprisingly some authors don't appear natural when reading their own writing). He then proceeded to converse with ALOUD's Justin Veach, whose quirkiness matched the author's well. They spent a sizable portion of the hour discussing the future of literature and the physicality of the book (death to eReaders). His comments on the importance of reading matched those of Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451- books make you think, and the ability to stop and start them allows you the leisure to do so. Shteyngart expressed concern about the speed at which the world is moving and how difficult it is to write relevant novels. A novel can take several months or even years to write- when it's published any "current" events that it mentions or focuses on are already old news. Not to mention the fact that people aren't reading as much as they used to- the general population works hard, all day, and it's much easier to turn on Mad Men and feel intellectual, rather than tackling Tolstoy an hour before bed. His frustration is obvious without being depressing or even pessimistic; his next projects include writing his memoirs (so he can unload his immigrant baggage), then a pilot for HBO (I guess I may have to start watching TV), and then perhaps a new novel.

Another reason why I love the ALOUD crowd: old and young alike chuckled at his frequent references of the fictitious store in his novel, "Juicy Pussy," his suggestions that people start using the acronym JBF ("just butt fucking you") at work produced loud laughter, and no one heckled him when he threw in a subtle zinger at our previous president.

I'm eager to see how Shteyngart's future endeavors pan out. And no, I didn't throw my bra on stage.

Super Sad True Love Story trailer:

No, this isn't how he usually talks (and yes, James Franco took his class).


  1. Haha the ALOUD crowd seems like a fun crowd! I wish we lived a bit closer to LA. These Riversiders are not as cool.

  2. I was linked here from Shteyngart's Facebook page. Nice job summing a wonderful evening. It is amazing what a humble, funny, and insightful person he is. Gary rules!