Tom Snyder vs. Charles Manson

And here’s Part Two and Part Three. They don’t make television like this anymore. Name a single interviewer today who would openly call a mass murderer as dangerous as Manson a “coward” or invite him to beat the shit out of him on national television. If anything, this incredible interview again demonstrates what we have lost in television journalism and why it is necessary for journalists of all stripes to up their game, remaining as fearless as possible in their pursuit of the truth.

BSS #125: Alternative Press Expo 2007, Part Two


CONDITION OF MR. SEGUNDO: Longing for phone numbers and fistfights.

GUESTS: Julia Wertz, Julie Walker, Levni R. Yilmaz, Bill Morse, Neil Fitzpatrick, Brandon Bird, Ming Doyle, John Rivera, Steve Fuson, Zack Corzine, Christopher Perguidi and Keith Knight

SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Comics inspired from Craig’s List Missed Connections, unusual underwear, tactile animation, web comics vs. minicomics, an update on the Neil Jam universe, the practice of appropriating every known cultural construct, mullets, a comic book adaptation of a rock opera, family-friendly gnomes, using all five senses to experience a narrative, cannibal cooks, standing out among zombie comics, meticulously placed exclamation marks within comic book titles, grammar and comics, and how to work on comics in Los Angeles.


Correspondent: So I was passing by a booth and I found some very unusual underwear designed by someone here. Maybe you can identify yourself and explain what the purpose of this underwear is, why it exists, and why it is being offered to the public at large.

Walker: Um, my name is Julie Walker and I really wanted to put weenies onto underwear. Because it seemed like a good idea.

Tod Goldberg vs. Parade Magazine

A saner man would simply throw his issue of Parade into the dustbin, pretending that the dreaded Sunday supplement simply wasn’t a part of the newspaper and taking a complacent munch from his lightly jellied English muffin. But not Tod Goldberg. His ongoing commitment to not only reading, but reporting upon the horrors of Parade has caused him to become desperately obsessed in an Ahabesque sense. And the results have, from my comfortable Brooklyn nook, been hilarious to watch. Goldberg’s become so desperate that he’s now penned an open letter to editor Lee Kravitz. Can a Parade Brownie Watch or a Kravitz-issued restraining order be next?

RIP Tom Snyder

I have also learned from a reader that Tom Snyder died on Sunday — a day after I wrote at length about him. This too is a major loss and, even though I know I had nothing to do with it, I’m trying to shake off the horrible conviction that I might have killed the man in writing about him. Horrible.

[UPDATE: It appears that Manhattan Ed suffers the same problem I do. The minute he talks about an older artist, the artist dies. If there are other Eds out there who are unintentionally killing artists, please make yourself known. We need to do something about this regrettable problem.]

RIP Ingmar Bergman


Ingmar Bergman is dead.

My first Bergman experience involved seeing a 16mm print of Persona as a teenager and becoming thoroughly lost in its dreamlike world, my heart fully pulverized by the great pain and sorrow, my mind recoiling at the fragmentary images that I didn’t quite understand, and the other Sacramento kids around me simply not understanding that they were in the presence of a master.

I wondered then if Bergman was cinema’s great manic depressive and sought out his other films. The rolling tank in The Silence, the daring colors and blood of Cries and Whispers, the constant concern with death. I was surprised by the great humanism of Wild Strawberries and Max von Sydow’s knight in The Seventh Seal defiantly standing against the grim reaper. I began playing chess with friends on the beach, trying to look as cool as von Sydow.

Bergman was as literary a filmmaker as you could get — the likes of which we won’t see again for some time. It is as if Ibsen or Strindberg has died. And his absence leaves a staggering void that not even twenty filmmakers could fill.

New George Romero Zombie Movie in the Can

The IMDB reports that Diary of the Dead, written and directed by George A. Romero, has been completed and has European distributors lined up. The film was shot last year and has a budget of around $10 million — a tad less than the $15 million Romero had for Land of the Dead. Here’s an audio interview with Romero about the new zombie film, which reveals the following: Diary goes back to the first night when the zombies rose. Some college kids are filming a horror movie, only to run into rising zombies.

Apparently, the film is told from the perspective of multiple cameras that are found by others, which might just serve as an intriguing creative limitation for the horror master. We’ll see.

Interestingly, Romero is not using any music for this film. So will this be the zombie movie’s answer to The China Syndrome? Or does Romero have something vaguely postmodernist up his sleeve?

Sven Birkerts and “Literary Life”

The reputedly intelligent Sven Birkerts has entered into the print vs. online fray in today’s Boston Globe. He very kindly cites me, as well as Mark Sarvas, as a litblog that he has investigated. I can’t speak for Mark, but in the interests of conveying to Mr. Birkerts that litbloggers and print journalists are not necessarily on opposite sides of the coin, I should also observe — and this is quite important in responding to Birkerts’s argument — that Mark and I also write regularly for print, and that Mark indeed has a novel coming out next year. I know that Mark and I have had previous lives as journalists in the pre-digital era and that we are both on the cusp of gradually graying ourselves. (As a matter of fact, I snipped a thin gray strand from my reddish beard this morning.) Hopefully, this will quell another regrettable round of “Who’s the bigger old fogey?” and concomitant declarations of Terre Haute residency.

First off, I must commend Birkerts for not only being honest about his own print biases, but for at least going to the trouble of investigating blogs in this supposed “war.” But while Birkerts brings some interesting ideas to the table, of which more anon, I think it’s important to correct some of Birkerts’s assumptions about the litblogosphere.

As was abundantly pointed out by Colleen Mondor last month, it’s not so unreasonable to aver that the litblogosphere could exist on its own terms if it wanted to. When one discounts links and roundups, much of the content generated by litbloggers is as original as the content generated by newspaper writers. And with many figures straddling both sides of the fence, it’s unfair to call litblogs “in vital ways still predatory on print.” (Speaking for myself, I have never had any interest in being predatory. I have only wished to encourage the continuing discussion of literature, which sometimes involves a few necessary subjective assaults.)

But let’s examine this “predatory” rap. A litblog merely links to a piece — in the best of cases, with accreditation and generally with some one-sentence context. Dwight Garner’s “Inside the List” column for the New York Times (and later the corporate blog Paper Cuts) has confirmed Garner’s status as a print-based pettifogger considerably more predatory than the blogosphere. “Inside the List” is, more or less, a blog transposed to print form. Of course, it took the blog form of Paper Cuts to reveal Garner’s incorrigible character. He saw fit to steal an idea from Largehearted Boy and, with a graceless stooge shuffle eerily reminiscent of Carlos Mencia’s dunderheaded dance in front of Joe Rogan, pled ignorance when the notations were closely compared.

So why does Garner get a largely unobserved slap on the wrist while the bloggers get the stiff sentences? And what business does Birkerts have calling the blogosphere supplementary when book review sections are likewise supplementary? Take away the many books that are published each year and the book review section abdicates its contemporary thrust, transforming into white space.

Birkerts asks the question:

I’m hard put to repudiate these virtues of the blogosphere. But can it really compensate for losses in the more clearly bounded print sector? The bigger question, if we accept that these are the early symptoms of a far-reaching transformation, is what does this transformation mean for books, for reviewing, for the literary life?

So here at last is the real concern. The literary life. A codeword for whether or not the literary print journalist makes a modest living or is able to maintain a sideline. To my mind, “literary life” is more of a semantic powder keg. The print journalist may depend on freelancing paychecks in part for a “literary life” rooted more in paying the rent; the litblogger may hope to fulfill a “literary life” predicated on a love of books.

Nevertheless, I do believe Birkerts is right to point to “literary life” as the two words that sum up why book review sections, which naturally cling to overly conservative critics and overly conservative books under review, are dying and litblogs are thriving.

Certainly Birkerts is a man who clearly loves literature. His critical work reflects this. And I can likewise confess that my reading, whether done for a professional assignment or an amateur project, is initiated because of an enthusiasm or a curiosity. (Yes, even with Ron Jeremy. I offer no apology for my brow stretching high and low, or for my reading stretching across literary and genre.) If I did not have either or both of these two qualities, then I would recuse myself from the work. For there could be no way that my response would bristle with the life I try to inject into it. I don’t know Birkerts personally, but I suspect he is cast of similar character.

If we accept “literary life” as an emotional preoccupation with books or something that truly comes from the heart, can we find this “literary life” in the work of Joe Queenan, Leon Wieseltier, or the non-NYTBR writings of Rachel Donadio? Do any of them truly care about books? How did the strange newspaper world shift these bores (and sometimes boors) to their current stations? Can one open up a newspaper section and read a lede in which the reviewer actually gives a damn, pro or con, about the book under review?

Birkerts likewise laments “the emergent maturity that constrains unbounded freedom in the interest of mattering.” Well, for all of its talk about preserving the future of book criticism, I do not see the National Book Critics Circle instituting a mentoring program to help out younger critics. I do not see them receptive to the idea that people under the age of thirty do, in fact, read form time to time. I do not see some of the humorless NBCC board members attempting to reach out to perspectives or voices that are different from their own — particularly, if it involves politics. This is the “emergent maturity” that Birkets champions in print critics? If print critical culture wishes to remain this vanilla, then give me the comforts of polymorphously perverse bedsheets any day of the week.

What’s not to suggest that the litbloggers — who might just present a more comforting anarchy than a “self-constituted group of those who have made it their purpose to do so” — can’t “matter” in the way that Birkerts describes? If the norms of print culture have refused to shift over the past twenty-five years, as Pat Holt has suggested, maybe it’s high time for these norms to be shaken up. Maybe the centrifugal proliferation that Birkerts bemoans is the very impetus that will “define, or prompt, or inspire, or at least intuit” in that way that Cynthia Ozick pined for. (And if Birkerts can twist Ozick’s argument to suit his purposes, then I suppose I’m entitled to do the same.)

It’s also necessary to note that the “hopscotch through the referential enormity of argument and opinion” that Birkerts quibbles with is largely what he, as an interested party, brings to his blog-reading experience. (And Sven, if you’re feeling swallowed up by all the content, you may want to check out this thing called Bloglines.) I doubt every person reads blogs in the same way that Birkerts does. Thus, is this likewise a legitimate gripe?

Nonetheless, I do think that Birkerts’s lengthy essay is a more judicious response to a scenario that is likely to be unresolved for quite some time. I only wish that Birkerts could understand that the two “sides” are more similar than he realizes.

[UPDATE: There are now additional responses from Prairie Progressive, who notes that “the essay seems predicated on an elitist approach that seems prevalent among many established print reviewers.” Meanwhile, Mark Bernstein observes, “It’s not the link’s fault, anymore than it’s the sunshine that keeps our young scholar staring out the window toward that sunny ballpark.”]

The End of Raucous Late Night Television

And here’s Part 2 of the John Lydon vs. Tom Snyder exchange.

RELATED: Wendy O. Williams smashing a television set and Snyder interview. More on Williams’s Milwaukee charges here. Also, Williams vs. Mrs. Fields.

TANGENTIALLY RELATED: Weird Al Yankovic’s first national television appearance — on The Tomorrow Show — performing “Another One Rides the Bus.”

It’s also worth noting that Tom Snyder’s The Tomorrow Show originally had the 12:30 AM time slot that NBC than gave to a rising standup comedian named David Letterman, who replaced Snyder’s thoughtful and often explosive interviews with “Stupid Pet Tricks” and interviews that involved Letterman more or less slipping into whatever celebrity junket was handed to him. Snyder would return to television thirteen years later — albeit in a more subdued form — to The Late, Late Show for a four year run. He eventually left, and he would once again see his show tailored for mass consumption — with the host replaced with Craig Kilborn and later Craig Ferguson. One might convincingly argue that Ferguson brings at least some smarts to the populist late night talk show. But when one considers the above explosive exchange with John Lydon and Wendy O. Williams’s smashing of television sets, it becomes clear that the days of late night television which attempted to grab viewers by the lapels or seriously challenge conventions are over.

Today, the only real intimate talk show interview — without a studio audience — is Charlie Rose. But compare Rose’s interviews, which involve Rose sucking up to his guests, with those of Dick Cavett’s, who regularly challenged his guests. Or Tom Snyder. Or even Mike Douglas. (Or even the early days of Bob Costas.) Television, which once specialized from time to time in provocative conversation, is now more content to waffle in conversational and intellectual mediocrity. And today’s 18-34 demographic, growing up without Snyder or Cavett, have no idea what they’re missing. (Terry Gross pretends to be a follower of this tradition, but as Curtis White has convincingly argued, she is not a true representative of public opinion.)

The interviews that I conduct for The Bat Segundo Show are an attempt to return to this abandoned long-form approach. I don’t claim to be as good as Cavett or Snyder. But I do hope that one day, radio and television will return to the conversation as a journalistic form, unsullied by avarice and the quids pro quo of publicists. Fortunately, the Internet presents an opportunity for today’s journalists to correct this considerable imbalance.

BSS #124: Alternative Press Expo 2007, Part One


[This is the first in a series of podcasts devoted to Alternative Press Expo 2007.]

GUESTS: Carmen Ogden, Heather Morgan, Jess from CW, Sacha Arnold, Stephen Notley, Sarah Weinman, Jacquelyn Mentz, Tammy Stellanova and booth babe, Gabriel Martinez, Brian Andersen and Preston (cheerleader), Alex Cahill and Jad Ziade the laconic writer, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Tessa Brunton, Melina Mena, DJ Bryant, Travis Fox, two guys talking about waffles, Argel Brown and Michael Galande, Hope & Nicolette Davenport, Jeff Zugale, and Kristian Horn.

SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: The glut of autobiographical comics, Fat Camille, an unexpected skirmish between old media and new media, consulting cartoonists for tax advice, writing age-appropriate comics, handmade books, compartmentalized paneling, urban wildlife, the pigeon ecosystem, satanic raccoons, copraphilia, inverted superheroes, laconic comic book writers, whether or not robots are the savior of humanity, country bands and domain squatting, life’s rich pageant, retail humiliation, ripping off George Harrison, efforts to exploit the comic book circus atmosphere, waffles and freedom fries, turning interviews into comics, how to get rid of excess self-published comics, and superhero political comics.


Correspondent: Whoa, whoa, WB and UPN have merged?

Jess: Yeah. About…

Correspondent: No one told me this!

Jess: I’m sorry. I mean, I’m hear to say. The last one to know. About nine months ago. But, um, it has shows like America’s Top Model and Simpsons and South Park.

Correspondent: But if WB and UPN merged, shouldn’t it be called WPN? Or UB?

Jess: Uh, that’s —

Correspondent: I mean, how the hell did you get CW out of it?

Jess: That’s a very valid…uh…what is this for?

But Will Barnabas End Up Being a Gay Keith Richards?

Variety: “Johnny Depp is getting in touch with his inner vampire. Warner Bros. is teaming with Depp’s Infinitum-Nihil and Graham King’s GK Films to develop a feature based on the ’60s daytime supernatural sudser ‘Dark Shadows.’ Depp has said in interviews that he has always been obsessed with ‘Dark Shadows’ and had, as a child, wanted to be Barnabas Collins, the vampire patriarch of the series. The role was originated by Jonathan Frid.”

Dave Itzkoff on How to Write for the NYTBR

The first dirty little secret of writing a review for Sam Tanenhaus is to come across like an ill-informed wanker who knows nothing of the genre he is writing about. The second is that everyone who reads the NYTBR are — dare I say it? — intended to be treated as idiots.

It’s important to state a very obvious observation about a genre and then back it up with even more obvious examples — the kind of thing that just about any remote geek would have long since talked about, but that the pretentious literary types insist is “hip” or “new” because they decide to keep their heads in the sand about this crazy little thing called genre. It’s also important to pad out your obvious observation into a really long paragraph like this that sounds sophisticated — that’s written in that insufferable Tanenhaus-sanctioned vernacular — but that has very little fucking substance to it.

It is this axiom that shapes and empowers Sam Tanenhaus’s far from imaginative and, at times, achingly nauseating book review section. In contrast to book review sections like The Washignton Post and The Los Angeles Times, who actually go to the trouble of not only employing people who are passionate about literature but actually read the work of their contributors so as to offer pitch-perfect assignments, the NYTBR, which is less important in the grand scheme of things than it thinks it is, takes the opposite approach, applying the bullshitter’s tools to what is essentially a tabloid section of hot air and gormless content. In essays that alternate between the occasionally provocative to the truly dead, the NYTBR doesn’t come close to telling the story of literature as we know it, remaining openly hostile to anything that isn’t Saul Bellow — apparently, the only author who gives Sammy Boy a hard-on — or part of that petit-bourgeois nonsense that a saner world would shun. You need not possess a brain to masticate upon this stuff, for take away the faux ornate language and there is nothing here to chew on — no penetrating insights or enthusiasm about literature.

Factor in the continued employment of Dave “What’s Skiffy?” Itzkoff — as opposed to people who know something about the genre (like, say, Ed Park or Jeff VanderMeer) — and you have one colossal joke of a newspaper book review section.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Boxer Scorned

Craig Davidson offers this lengthy account of Tuesday night’s boxing match, observing, “Jonathan’s dating the singer Fiona Apple. So that’s pretty cool. I’m thinking, hell, even if he loses, he goes home with Fiona Apple. That’s got to go a long ways towards healing any hurts. Me, I got to go home to the hotel minibar.”

You know, if it’s any consolation to Craig, I was at the Rebar after-party and I happen to know that a few single women were there swooning for Mr. Davidson, with at least one of them asking me if “Craig was available.” I must aver that “available” meant a lot more than “Can I talk with him for five minutes?”

Wait Until This Judge Gets Around to Dylan and the Stones

The August issue of Harper’s contains, in its Readings section, a fantastic sentencing memorandum offered by Judge Gregory R. Todd, in the case of Montana vs. Andrew McCormack:

Mr. McCormack, to the question of “Give your recommendation as to what you think the Court should do in this case,” you said, “Like the Beatles say, ‘Let it be.'” If I were to overlook your actions and let it be, I would have to ignore that day in the life on April 21, 2006. Evidently, you said to yourself, “I feel fine,” while drinking beer. Later, whether you wanted money or were just trying to act naturally, you became the fool on the hill. As Mr. Moonlight at 1:30 A.M., you did not think for yourself, but just focused on I, me, mine. Because you didn’t ask for help, wait for something else, or listen to your conscience saying, “Honey, don’t,” the victim later that day was fixing a hole in the glass door you broke. After you stole the eighteen-pack of Old Milwaukee, you decided it was time to run for your life and carry that weight. But when the witness said, “Baby, it’s you,” the police responded, “I’ll get you,” and you had to admit, “You really got a hold on me.” You were not able to get back home because of the chains they put on you. Although you hoped the police would say, “I don’t want to spoil the party” and “We can work it out,” you were in misery when they said you were a bad boy. When the police took you to jail, they said, “Hello, goodbye,” and you became a nowhere man. Later, when you thought about what you did, you may have said, “I’ll cry instead.” Now you’re saying, “Let it be,” instead of, “I’m a loser.” As a result of your hard day’s night, you were looking at a ticket to ride that long and winding road. Hopefully, you can say when I’m sixty-four, “I should have known better.”

The blog Fifer Traeger has tracked down this alternative version of the sentencing.

Roy Den Hollander: A Man of Limitations, A Man of Principle

Several groups of men have, at long last, discovered the true evil that lurks beneath the nightlife underbelly and have initiated the appropriate legislation to exact justice for the greatest threat to equality since they bussed in those dark-skinned kids into schools some decades ago. It turns out that those goddam women, who continue to complain about the apparent injustice of a woman making two thirds the annual income that a man makes, have now spawned a grand plan in collusion with nightclub owners to disrupt the natural patriarchal order. Not only do these women have the temerity to order drinks at a price lesser than that of a man, but they often get into these nightclubs for free! FOR FREE! Doesn’t a woman know that her only role in life is to a man’s pliable arm candy? Doesn’t a woman know that she must abstain from pursuing a career and do nothing more in life than cook, clean and reproduce?

Thankfully, there are brave men like Roy Den Hollander, who has tired of “being treated as a second-class citizen.” It’s bad enough that Mr. Hollander’s penis size is smaller than the norm. To dwell upon this personal topic is to open up a healing wound. But now Mr. Hollander has to suffer the indignity of paying one or two more dollars for a drink than a woman! Well, enough is enough. If you ask me, the only real solution here is to castrate Mr. Hollander and begin the appropriate court-enforced pre-op transexual procedures. It’s the only way to be sure. As a woman, only then will Mr. Hollander understand the gender chasm. As a woman, only then will Mr. — make that Ms. Hollander know the meaning of “second-class citizen.”

(via Jason Pinter)

In Defense of Sitting in Bookstores

This Baltimore Sun item describes how the big box bookstores are no longer placing the nooks, crannies, and chairs that were once de rigueur a few decades ago. In the case of Borders, the chain has cut back their soft seating by 30%. The complaints are the usual ones: the homeless, necking lovers, people leaving trash behind, and other assorted riff-raff. (Of course, it’s not as if these prohibitive factors didn’t exist when the bookstores did provide more seating.)

Customers seem to be lounging in the bookstores anyway, sitting on the floor and sometimes not buying anything at all. But is this really so bad? One might argue that Starbucks’ tolerance for sitters who don’t purchase a cafe au lait, or anything at all really, may very well be one of the reasons why it’s impossible to wander around Manhattan without running into one of those monolithic green circles — sometimes with remarkable square footage. And there’s a considerable difference in profit margin between a $29.95 hardcover and a $2.95 cafe au lait. But you don’t see Starbucks cutting back on its soft seating.

All this reminds me of what Jane Jacobs had to say about people being naturally inclined to sit on steps and how these recurrent populist acts — wholly natural, of course — led to strange underclass labels. What’s to suggest that people naturally sitting in a bookstore won’t bring in long-term revenue over time? Can’t a bookstore learn a few things from coffeehouse culture and be a kind of community? If people are permitted to sit and congregate without being badgered by a humorless manager, they might meet a friend who, in turn, might purchase a few books. Further, book enthusiasts tend to be natural browsers, often pinpointing particular volumes for later purchase. Is not a certain amount of tolerance for the literary inclined a sound business proposition?

Sure, some of the sitters will be inveterate slobs. And you’ll need staff to clean up messes and restock books. But it’s a small price to pay for an amicable atmosphere. Maybe I simply have more faith in humankind than the iron-fisted Borders executives. But I’ve found that most people, barring a few assholes who try to make everyone’s lives miserable, are pretty polite and friendly. So why be discourteous and force them sit on the floor?

(via Galleycat)

[UPDATE: While I didn’t have the time to dig up my copy of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities and a few other New Urbanist books to quote for this post, Charlottesville Words thankfully drew a few comparisons between this seating imbroglio and Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.]

BSS #123: Steven Hall


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Revisiting his flipbook-authoring hobby.

Author: Steven Hall

Subjects Discussed: The relationship between narrative and text design, textual malapropisms, speculating upon “wooden” dialogue, multiple Eric Sandersons and the Matrix trilogy, narrative onslaughts against institutions, on balancing postmodernism with an adventure story, B.S. Johnson, hooking up with David Mitchell and Scarlett Thomas, junk science, devising the QWERTY codes, first-person vs. omniscient narration, misleading toenail tattoos, and the many ways of reading the shark flipbook.


Hall: I started off as an artist. So I had been working with words and text for quite a while. And I think I was just interested in playing around with that sort of form. I also wanted to write a story that looked to identity and where identities comes from. And I had this idea for a species of animal — conceptual fish which swim in flows of conversation and streams of consciousness. And just playing those little word games really. And that came together with the idea of trying to write a story about what it means to be a person and where your self originates.

BSS #122: Richard Flanagan


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Attempting to understand Tasmanians.

Author: Richard Flanagan

Subjects Discussed: The novel as a warning, interviews with overly serious journalists, the novel as a mirror to the world, the inspiration of Heinrich Böll’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, the tradition of using other people’s plots, Jonathan Lethem’s essay on copyright, the obsession with intellectual property, heightened metaphors, people living without land and love, the remarkable disconnect between the author’s intentions and the reader’s perception, the amount of noise in the world, using brand names in language, plagiarizing from infotainment, not wanting to repeat Gould’s Book of Fish, on being innately semiotic, the Sydney Morning Herald, bourgeois broadsheets vs. yellow journalism, absolute vs. relative truth, on being savaged by the Tasmanian media, the despair of politics, the difficulties of the word “terrorist,” why books are a better conduit for truth than other mediums, the seduction of evil, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s comparison of Hemingway and Faulkner.


Flanagan: A book has many faces. I mean, in the end, a book isn’t what a writer thinks it is. A book is what a reader makes of it, when they lend the authority of their lives and their souls to it. But, for me, I was determined to try and escape politics with the book. I wanted to find a simple parable — that it would act like a mirror to what the world was now. I felt the least useful thing I had were my opinions, my attitudes, my politics. I wanted to abandon all that. I just wanted to try and live within the world the way it was, and have a story that spoke as accurately as possible to it, in a way that might lead me and hopefully the reader to some broader sense of what the world is now. But I didn’t know what the world was. And I don’t pretend to have any clue. I have even less clue actually. But it’s always in story that things are revealed. Not in the author’s attitudes.

BSS #121: Gary Shteyngart


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating an ethnic switch to Russian.

Author: Gary Shteyngart

Subjects Discussed: Prince Myshkin and Misha Vainberg, Doestoevsky as a muse, fat man fiction, getting inside a corpulent character, Biggie Smalls, hip-hop traditions in other countries, technological references in satire, the apocalyptic novel vogue, the paucity of satire in contemporary fiction, the metafictional elements of Absurdistan, the 19th century plotting techniques for Absurdistan, the importance of notebooks, literary fiction as entertainment, linguistic slumming and lowbrow metaphors, kissing the back of testicles, going up against Cormac McCarthy in the Tournament of Books, the suspicions against comic novels, dick jokes, connectivity vs. inhabiting another person’s mind, and not being able to exist without writing.


Shteyngart: I also work in bed and don’t really move very much. I don’t know. My metabolism has been great so far. So I’m not so big. But when I was thirteen or so, I was actually a very husky child. I had to have a special suit made for my bar mitzvah. A special husky suit. So there’s a big fat guy inside this little frame that’s dying to get out. And the other thing is, I guess, was the American novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. And I was thinking primarily of Ignatius O’Reilly, one of the — I was asked recently to pick my favorite book in America in the last three decades and that was the book that came to mind. A wonderful rambling historical — a place also very rooted in its locality. New Orleans. And about a guy who loves to consume everything in sight. Those Lucky Hot Dogs, I’m thinking of. So I love to eat myself. And I love everything to do with food. So I wanted to make my guy gigantic, and I wanted to make him a real consumer — in a very American mode, but also in a kind of nouveau riche Russian mode.