Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Gary Shteyngart

By posted at 11:00 am on December 4, 2013 7

covercoverHaving made four British friends, this year I decided to devote myself to the fiction of the sceptered isle. I read Middlemarch (totally awesome), David Copperfield (pretty dang awesome), and Pride as well as Prejudice (plain awesome). I was reared in 19th Century Russian literature and then the literature of American Jews (Roth, Bellow, etc.) and I always had difficulty with the relative lack of emotion in English lit. I developed several strategies to make my reading easier. First, I would insert some hot Russian emotion into the chilly scenes by hand. So if a character is carrying on some abstruse conversation about standing for parliament or whatever, I would interrupt it in my mind with: “And then Casaubon Casaubonovich threw himself around her neck and cried violently.” Problem solved. Then I decided to Yiddishize some of the writing to make it more haimish. Take for example the first line of David Copperstein: “Whether I shall turn out to be the mensch of my own life, or whether that station will be held by some other putz, this spiel must show.” Or: “Miss Brooke had the kind of punim which seems to be thrown into relief by her shmatas.” Once you mentally add a dollop of sour cream and a tablespoon of schmaltz to 19th Century British literature, you will find it tastes as good as anything in the Western canon. Mr. Darcyvich never had it so good.

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7 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Gary Shteyngart”

  1. Glenn
    at 11:10 am on December 4, 2013


  2. Evelyn Walsh
    at 1:32 pm on December 4, 2013


    Woolf and Forster tremble with emotion. I hear what you are saying re: some of the 18th century novels, but have found that sometimes I may have begin with a fairly abstract view of certain works– Austen, the Brontes, even Shakespeare– but rereading over the course of my life changes this. So does a beautiful film or theatre rendition. I can remember being kind of annoyed in the middle of Sense and Sensibility with all the handwringing about Marianne “catching a cold” on her “ling walk in the rain”– after the movie, I got it. Went back and really got it.

    But the inverse might be true. The brutality of the inheritance issue– and the selfish cruelty of the Dashwood sisters’ in-laws — felt more tangible on the page.

  3. Momma
    at 1:57 pm on December 4, 2013

    Every shmuck knows you’re a big macha but will you hurry and and get married already?

  4. UpperWestHazel
    at 4:12 pm on December 4, 2013

    I regret the time I wasted reading this unedifying and unfunny collection of sentences. And I have enjoyed some of your novels.

  5. Irene G.
    at 11:01 am on December 5, 2013

    I’m with UpperWestHazel: “I regret the time I wasted reading this unedifying and unfunny collection of sentences. And I have enjoyed some of your novels.”

    C’mon, Gary!

  6. A Year in Reading: Bloomers Edition | Bloom
    at 7:01 pm on January 2, 2014

    […] Adelle Waldman and Gary Shteyngart have good things to say about George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874). Kathryn Davis shared her love […]

  7. GuiltyFeat
    at 4:39 am on January 7, 2014

    If you keep going with Eliot and make it all the way to Daniel Deronda, you won’t have to bother Yiddischizing it as there is already the most incongruous and marvelous Zionist subplot where Deronda discovers his Jewish roots and dedicates his future to establishing a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.

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