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Posts Tagged ‘Gary Shteyngart’

Staff Picks: Lumber Yards, Low-crawling, Luxury Cages

February 20, 2015 | by

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From Sara Cwynar’s cover to the newly designed New York Times Magazine.

Not long ago a friend gave me a very slim book by the French sinologist Jean François Billeter called Trois essais sur la traduction. Like the (similarly skinny) 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, by Eliot Weinberg and Octavio Paz, this is a book all about specifics—the specific problems of translating classical Chinese poetry. And like that book, this one contains an entire philosophy of translation. “The young musician learns to analyse the form of the work, and by interpreting the work he brings it to life: he makes it his own twice over. In literature, the student learns mainly how to talk about works. He does not make them his own the way the musician does … The result is a frustration that no one admits but that pretty much everyone feels. Students of literature can acquire at least some of [a writer’s] power through the practice of translation, since it consists in saying in one language what the author has said in another—saying it as well as he did, so that it produces the same effect.” I hope someone will bring that power to bear on these graceful, deeply sensible case studies. —Lorin Stein

Of the New York Times Magazine’s quartet of covers coming with its relaunch this weekend, my favorite is Sara Cwynar’s Death Star globe cloaked in a distorted TV test pattern that practically emits a high-frequency reference tone. It turns out that Gary Shteyngart’s essay for the issue—a chronicle of watching Russian TV for a week straight—pairs quite well with Cwynar’s evil-empire cover; he must still have the drone of Putin’s television clouding his brain. (Shteyngart’s exploit reminds me of Caity Weaver’s challenge last year of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers promotion, during which she ate mozzarella sticks for close to fourteen hours.) Shteyngart performed his feat Black Mirror style: in front of three large television screens installed in a “luxury cage” at the Four Seasons in New York. From the variety of programs—talk shows, news, classic films, comedy, and lots and lots of dancing—preposterously braided together by state propaganda, Shteyngart plucks hard truths (or, in Putin parlance, “manly truths”) about Russia’s increasing distance from any kind of geopolitical middle ground. “Now the cool nations are no longer inviting Russia for unsupervised sleepovers,” he writes, "and the only kids still leaving notes on Russia’s locker are Kim Jong-un and Raúl Castro.” —Nicole Rudick

Zadie Smith wrote a piece for Rookie this week detailing her antipathy toward keeping a diary: “The dishonesty of diary writing—this voice you put on for supposedly no one but yourself—I found that idea so depressing … I don’t want any record of my days.” That’s an intriguing sentiment to me—I’ve been caught up in The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, a five-hundred-page kaleidoscope of the New York School artist’s writings and drawings, diary entries included. Smith, miffed by the staged grandeur that crept into the pages of her own diary, renounces the practice. But Brainard renounces the grandeur. In Collected Writings, there’s no asphyxiating sense of malaise or swooping trauma, no insurmountable woe, no quixotic dreams of romance—which is precisely what’s drawn me to the collection. Instead, one gets what one might expect from a diary: the quotidian. We learn what Brainard liked in bed (a “good plain blow-job; It’s rhythm that makes me come the best”), what he thought about on the train (“I like that lumber yard”), his impression of Jamaica (“It’s a hard place to believe in”). As Dan Chaisson puts it, “[Brainard’s] writing specializes in the exploration of the minor emotions often slighted by ‘serious’ writers: contentment rather than elation, glumness rather than despair, horniness instead of passion, and, everywhere, a non-existential, completely ordinary loneliness.” —Caitlin Youngquist

In his new memoir My Life as a Foreign Country, the poet Brian Turner traces his history as a young infantryman in Bosnia and Iraq, interlacing his story with those of his grandfather (who served in World War II), his father (Cold War), and his uncle (Vietnam), to find some element of truth behind the history of human suffering. Turner writes tenderly from his enemies’ perspective, imagining them asleep with their wives, being blown up while building IEDs meant for American soldiers, and even training their crosshairs on one Sgt Turner himself. Neither didactic nor bombastic, My Life as a Foreign Country focuses on the place of the individual in war. It doesn’t hurt that Turner is from my hometown of Fresno, California. “I was prepared to low-crawl,” he writes, “with my facedown in the nastiest, foulest, brackish sludge and sewer the world could offer, that I was from Fresno and people from Fresno can take it, can take it in spades and shovel fulls, people from Fresno can take decades of it, that people from Fresno can outcrawl any motherfucker on the planet … That’s why I joined.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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Tonight: Elif Batuman and Gary Shteyngart at 92Y

February 3, 2014 | by

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Join us this evening at 92Y, where, snow be damned, Gary Shteyngart and Elif Batuman will take the stage to read from their latest work. They’ll be introduced by Sloane Crosley and our very own Lorin Stein, respectively. The night begins at 8:15; those unable (or unwilling) to face the slush can watch a free livecast here. (If last night’s Super Bowl was any indication, it will be much better than whatever’s on TV.)

 

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Shelf-Conscious

December 27, 2012 | by

Chris Killip, 'The Library of Chained Books,' Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, UK, 1992.

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

I knew a kid in college who wanted so desperately to produce a book that he couldn’t stand the sight of their spines. He stacked them—ten or so brown and black books, library hardcovers—in his dorm room, titles to the wall, lips facing forward. He didn’t really buy books, either—at least I don’t recall that he did—but he never passed a bookstore without entering to read. These same stores have since displayed his books in their windows.

“‘You can tell how serious people are by looking at their books,’” Susan Sontag told Sigrid Nunez, long ago when Nunez was dating Sontag’s son. “She meant not only what books they had on their shelves, but how the books were arranged,” Nunez explains. “Because of her, I arranged my own books by subject and in chronological rather than alphabetical order. I wanted to be serious.”

There are many varieties of nerd, but only two real species—the serious and the nonserious—and shelves are a pretty good indication of who is which. “To expose a bookshelf,” Harvard professor Leah Price writes in Unpacking My Library, a recent collection of interviews with writers about the books they own, “is to compose a self.” In Sontag’s case, a very rigorous self. And, of course, that’s just the sort of self someone anxious about his aspirations might shy away from. “A self without a shelf remains cryptic,” Price notes. It’s like the straight-A student who says he hasn’t studied for finals: if you haven’t confessed to caring, no one can consider you to have failed.

There’s not a lot of anxiety about keeping libraries in this collection, however, because the adults featured—Junot Diaz, Steven Pinker, Gary Shteyngart, James Wood, Claire Messud, to name a few—are all solidly successful. Price’s interviews are less about each writer’s affairs and encounters with individual books than his or her shepherding of the whole herd—what’s treasured, tossed, bought twice, allowed to be lent. The interesting questions focus on each writer’s feelings about intellectual signaling and methods of overall arrangement. In other words, the stars of the pictures aren’t the books but the shelves. Read More »

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A Letter from Gary Shteyngart’s Dog

November 9, 2012 | by

The following letter was sent by Gary Shteyngart’s dog to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Dear BAM,

Last night, while my favorite human Gary Shteyngart was dripping gherkin juice and pickled cod balls onto his green polyester shirt, I noticed a tear trickling down his face. I peered over his slumped shoulder and saw on the interwebs that in a couple weeks, some famous people are gathering at BAM to make fun of him. Not only that, you monsters are actually selling tickets to the public for this public humiliation of my friend. BAM staffers, I say to you: this small, furry excuse of a human being already suffers terrible asthma, an overabundance of gnarled body hair, and bouts of midnight gas. He has trouble buttoning his own shirts, doesn’t own a comb, and bribes his own MFA students to write his books. His hardship started years ago, first as a young Russian émigré tortured at Hebrew School, when he arrived in America speaking no English with a mere two shirts and a bear coat, and then again at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, when his fellow immigrant teens would sabotage his Bunsen burner to get ahead. He struggled to make money in his 20s by writing grants for programs like “Torah Tots,” attempting to secure foundation money for the important purpose of introducing 3-year-olds to the murders and rapes of the Old Testament. In short I say to you, hasn’t Gary suffered enough? Why must you persecute him more? And also will this be live streamed on the web, so I can watch from the comforts of my luxury dog crate?

Sincerely,

Felix the Dachshund

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Handsome Crooks, Crooked Reviewers

October 2, 2012 | by

  • Meet “ridiculously photogenic 19th century NZ criminal” Daniel Tohill.
  • “Wanted — literate, artful writers who can post five-star reviews of some books on amazon.com. Pay is fifteen dollars firm for fifty to a hundred words of high praise with some specifics about the book that will appeal to potential readers.”
  • The most-challenged books of 2012: newcomer Fifty Shades of Grey joins old favorites like witchcraft-mongering Harry Potter and Slaughterhouse Five.
  • Gary Shteyngart: “You, American Airlines, should no longer be flying across the Atlantic. You do not have the know-how. You do not have the equipment. And your employees have clearly lost interest in the endeavor.”
  • Wes Anderson presents an animation of the fictional books from Moonrise Kingdom.
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    Something Out of Something: Talking with Etgar Keret

    May 1, 2012 | by

    In 2006, the great book-blurber and novelist Gary Shteyngart called Etgar Keret’s The Nimrod Flipout “the best work of literature to come out of Israel in the last five thousand years—better than Leviticus and nearly as funny.” Keret may indeed be the most loved and widely read Israeli writer working today. He is known for his very short short stories, which are often described as “surreal” and “absurd.” It’s certainly the case that they do not adhere to the laws of the physical universe.

    In his most recent collection, Suddenly, a Knock at the Door (published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a talking fish grants wishes; a woman unzips her boyfriend to reveal the German gentile inside; a middle-aged man is kidnapped and taken to his childhood. But at the heart of Keret’s writing is a deep compassion. His characters may be enmeshed in paradoxes unique to Israel—with its fraught borders, fragmented populations, and newly ancient language—but it’s always their humanity that shines through.

    Keret is also a filmmaker. With his wife, Shira Geffen, he directed Jellyfish (2009), which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes, and has had his work adapted to film, including Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006). Over the course of two weeks, during which his father passed away from cancer (he has written about his father for Tablet), Keret generously corresponded over e-mail for this interview.

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