Monday July 19th, 2010

Shteyngart in the Times, Times Two

garyshteyngartYevgeniya Traps’ review of Gary Shteyngart’s third novel, Super Sad True Love Story, just went up in the Circulating section. Shteyngart made two prominent appearances in Sunday’s New York Times. He lightened up Deborah Solomon in a very funny interview. A piece:

Were you influenced at all by Fahrenheit 451, which similarly presents a book-free future?

Yes, of course. In fact, that’s what I think Bradbury was concerned about, a future without books, not just an authoritarian government that burns books but a world where people don’t actually want to read.

The death of reading is a longstanding fear of futurists.

Maybe we’re all wrong and there’s going to be a huge comeback in 10 years where all the kids are going to drop their iKindles and start reading like crazy. “Dude, did you read the latest Turgenev? It’s so sick. This dude is like all over the subject of love and serfdom.”

That would be nice.

I don’t know how to read anymore. I can only read 20 or 30 words at a time before taking out my iPhone and caressing it and snuggling with it.

And in a more serious piece, he wrote about the same familiar topic — the fidgety nature of social media and its effects on reading habits — with verve. He starts funny:

With each passing year, scientists estimate that I lose between 6 and 8 percent of my humanity, so that by the close of this decade you will be able to quantify my personality. By the first quarter of 2020 you will be able to understand who I am through a set of metrics as simple as those used to measure the torque of the latest-model Audi or the spring of some brave new toaster.

But he settles down, with emotion, to the topic at hand, the recaptured life of a reader:

I am sitting underneath a tree beside a sturdy summer cottage rebuilt by an ingenious Swedish woman. The birds are twittering, but in a slightly different way than my New York friends. I open a novel, A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert, a book I will grow to love over the coming week, but at first my data-addled brain is puzzled by the density and length of it (256 pages? how many screens will that fill?), the onrush of feeling and fact, the surprise that someone has let me not into her Facebook account but into the way other minds work. I read and reread the first two pages understanding nothing. Big things are happening. World War I. The suffragist movement. Out of instinct I almost try to press the text of the deckle-edged pages, hoping something will pop up, a link to something trivial and fast. But nothing does. Slowly, and surely, just as the sun begins to swoon over the Hudson River and another Amtrak honks its way past Rhinebeck, delivering its digital refugees upstream, I begin to sense the world between the covers, much as I sense the world around me, a world corporeal and complete, a world that doesn’t need the press of my thumb, because here beneath the weeping willow tree my input is meaningless.