It’s been a decade since the Soviet-born author Gary Shteyngart published his debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. (Or, as he likes to call it, The Russian Debutante’s Handjob.) Since then, he’s developed a top-shelf reputation in the publishing world thanks to celebrated novels like 2006’s Absurdistan and 2010’s Super Sad True Love Story, not to mention popular essays, ubiquitous book blurbs, and a highly active Twitter account.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of his debut, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will be hosting a roast of Shteyngart tonight, with high-profile guests like Kurt Andersen, Jay McInerney, and Sloane Crosley getting in on the action. In honor of the writer’s imminent shaming, we got the man on the phone and discussed his career, his fears, and the fate of publishing. He even offered to blurb the interview for us: “Not since Gay Talese failed to interview Frank Sinatra has there been an interview of such importance and scope. The best interview I’ve had since my co-op board.”
Read on to find out more about Shteyngart’s thoughts on sheep, American Airlines, and the person whom he’d most like to roast.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, where are you?
GARY SHTEYNGART: I’m in the countryside above New York. Upstate, as some might say. It’s really nice here. There are trees, and sheep. A lot of sheep.
Are they your sheep?
Nah, they belong to a sheep farm. But I’d love to rent a few just to mow the lawn, because they eat a lot of grass.
But then you’d have to store them somewhere.
That’s the big problem. Where do you put them? And then how do you not eat them? They’re so tasty.
You just have to resist these urges, Gary. Moving on — your roast is coming up. Are you excited about that?
I am excited! I mean, it’s time to get roasted, I think. It’s been ten years of being a whatever, and it’ll be nice to… well, maybe not celebrate [my work], but they’ll at least allude to it.
Your dog Felix seems to be a little more nervous than you are. Are there any secrets that you or Felix fear will come out during the roast?
Oh, I think they’ll all come out. I mean, people know that I’m illiterate – that’s not a big secret. But there’s so many other dark things. The sheep, for example. My links to Petraeus. I mean, it’s all very dark.
What’s your darkest secret?
That I sometimes dance. There are pictures. Apparently my upper body doesn’t move, it’s just — I’m all legs.
So, Felix — how often does he write, and what kind of stuff usually?
You know, Felix is a very experimental writer. So he’s not exactly the kind of writer I thought he could be. But it’s all this kind of meta-universe where, you know, he can talk. It’s complicated. He went to Iowa. Which is funny, because I didn’t get into Iowa, but my dachshund did. So he’s a proud graduate. And he’s doing a Ph. D in Comp Lit at Yale now, which is annoying, because he’s always gone. He’s always traveling to New Haven. And he’s editing the canine edition of Granta.
If you could roast any writer living or dead, who would it be?
I’d like to roast Nabokov. Wouldn’t that be great? Because you know, he’d blast us, and you wouldn’t imagine he’d permit himself to be roasted. And then I would just invite the things that he feared the most in his life — like the Red Army Choir, maybe. And then I would have all the members of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute show up and serenade him. That could be great.
Did you get to pick who would be roasting you, or was it beyond your control?
Everything’s beyond my control. You think I just woke up one day and said, hey, roast me? They said, look, you have to do this, because that’s how publicity works these days. Anything that’s happening, you have to do it. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook, I’m on — just, help. Help!
When you Google “gary shteyngart,” some of the first autofill results are “gary shteyngart married” and “gary shteyngart girlfriend.” Any thoughts?
Wow! That’s really shocking. I mean, have you seen me lately? Well, I guess shaving part of my beard worked? I didn’t realize I was going to get this kind of adulation. The first book that I wrote, The Russian Debutante’s Handjob, was written just because I wanted someone to share a bed with me. And I guess with these Google results, it’s worked out. But that’s my life. That’s life as a successful contemporary author: they don’t even mention your novels. It’s all about your sex life. And your tweeting. READ FULL STORY