Speakeasy with Gary Shteyngart

Speakeasy is our weekly Q&A series with authors, publishers, agents and literary ne’er-do-wells. We put our interviewees through a grueling questionnaire and chat a bit about their upcoming projects. 

After three acclaimed novels (The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story), Gary Shteyngart delves candidly into his own life with his latest, Little Failure: A Memoir. Using his trademark self-deprecation, linguistic wit and sharp observations, Shteyngart covers his childhood immigration from the USSR to the USA,  his colorful parents and being a cultural misfit. As in his previous works, Shteyngart has created a hilarious book that deftly exposes deeper truths and realities.

Culture Binge chatted with the always charming and clever Shteyngart on bathroom reading, dachshund-cuddling, and boycotting the Sochi Olympics (but not for the reasons you think).

What book do you wish you’d written?
Nabokov’s Pnin. It’s so much better than my books. But then he’s dead and I’m alive. Mwahahaha.

Hemingway had mojitos, Raymond Chandler had gimlets. Henry Miller had French prostitutes. Hunter S. Thomson had, well, everything. What are your writing vices?
Is dachshund-cuddling a vice? Cause I’m doing it right now. Instead of penning the next semi-okay American novel I’m doing belly kisses and snout snuggles.

What book is currently on your nightstand/next to your toilet?
All of them. My library is funneled directly to my toilet. That is also where I produce content.

At cocktail parties, what do you tell people you do for a living?
Air conditioning and refrigerator repair. It’s a growth industry.

In Little Failure, you mention the rather gruesome deaths of family members (an uncle mutilated in Stalin’s labor camps, relatives who were buried alive). What would you like on your own tombstone epitaph?
Here Lies Shteyngart. He Grew Up Without Gulags and Death Camps, So He Tortured Himself.

Little Failure is your first memoir. What does memoir allow you to express that fiction doesn’t?
It allows me to put in some truly amazing photos of myself in a sailor suit climbing a makeshift ladder in 1970s Leningrad. Couldn’t do that in a novel.

As someone very familiar with the absurd reality of modern Russia, which story coming out of the coverage of the Olympics in Sochi have you found the most amusing?
I’m celebrating 41 years of not giving a damn about the Winter Olympics. There’s no badminton in this thing, so who cares. Let it all go to hell.

Gary Shteyngart will speak at The Philadelphia Free Library on Monday, February 24 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15. Little Failure: A Memoir is on sale now at your local independent bookstore or via Amazon.


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