Gary Shteyngart set his novel "Super Sad True Love Story" in a dystopian, not-too-distant future where books are passé and social media reigns supreme — just like the present, only worse. Shteyngart tells Kurt how the reality of America's decline ended up outpacing his fiction and why love in the face of authoritarian systems is especially romantic.
Kurt Andersen: How earnest are you about this vision of America’s near future?
Gary Shteyngart: People always think it’s going to happen in 2018, 2028. I wrote it set next Tuesday or something like that. It’s right around the corner.
In a video promoting “Super Sad True Love Story,” you show yourself as this illiterate buffoon nuzzling puppies and gallivanting around New York City. Was this all your idea?
Yes. Let me just address this one point first. People say, “You act like a buffoon or an idiot.” You know, I never learned how to read. I went to Oberlin. There was no reading as part of the curriculum. It was all about learning to discover yourself. I represent the 180 million other Americans who can’t read real good.
So you’re saying you don’t read critically or intelligently?
I just can’t read. It’s so hard. I mean, it’s a lost art. Writing I can do in my sleep. I’m a great writer, probably the best. But reading is one step too far.
(Originally aired July 30, 2010)
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