In his new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart (pictured, via) imagined a world where the publishing industry had collapsed.
We caught up Shteyngart one night before his appearance at the 92Y Tribeca for the event, 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker, to find out how to avoid that future. Shteyngart is also the author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan.
Q: Super Sad True Love Story takes place in a world where the publishing industry has folded. What we can do to stop that?
A: Well we can keep buying books. But we also have to read those books. And then we have to talk about those books with fellow human beings. It would be nice for books to have the ‘water cooler effect’ of shows like Mad Men and The Wire. The printed page still has stuff going for it.
Q: Did your book tour make you more optimistic or less optimistic about the future for publishing and writers?
A: Everywhere I went on my book tour I was met with buttloads of readers, usually two or three times more than on my last book tour. So I’m a little worried about my death-of-literature thesis after getting such a nice response from so many kind people.
Q: You did a lot of online promotion for the book. What worked? What didn’t work?
A: Video book trailer, anyone? Having James Franco, Mary Gaitskill, Jeff Eugenides, Edmund White and Jay McInerney in the trailer didn’t hurt. Over 100,000 hits and it really seems to have connected with readers. Plus it exposed my shameful secret: I can’t read.
Q: You have taught writing at Hunter College, Columbia, and Princeton. What advice do you give your students about the future?
A: Develop a strong voice. And if you’re rapidly aging like me use plenty of moisturizer and avoid too much contact with the sun. There’s nothing like a young writer.
Q: What are the writers/books you recommend aspiring writers read?
A: Read the stuff you really like and then remember to stray from the field so that your writing doesn’t begin to resemble an homage. Read the classics. They still rock.
Q: How did it feel to be named one of The New Yorker‘s “20 under 40” luminary fiction writers?
A: It felt good. The New Yorker is a great place to be. I was 37 when it happened, so there was little time to waste. Now I’m just praying for the 25 under 50, 30 under 60, etc.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: A tiny break from fiction as I pump up my non-fiction muscles.
Editor’s Note: This post has been modified to include event details.