Gary Shteyngart: Middle-Aged People Need Weird Hobbies to Exercise Their Dying Brains
The Author of Lake Success On Writer's Block, Essential TV, and Diet Advice From Philip Roth
Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success is now available.
Who do you most wish would read your book?
My shrink, for sure. He always tells me if I’ve been honest with myself after I he reads my books and if I have been he rubs my belly. I also show them to my accountant, but he just tells me to write for TV like a normal person.
What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?
Interviewers rarely ask me about my kick-ass collection of wristwatches, but I hope that changes. Middle-aged people need weird hobbies with plenty of granular detail. This helps us exercise our dying brains. Did I tell you about my collection of wristwatches? It’s kick-ass.
What time of day do you write (and why)?
I write from 11am to 3pm, with a lunch break in between. There is such a thing as over-writing, I feel, and after four hours you get diminishing returns. Also, I’m lazy AF.
How do you tackle writers block?
I never get writer’s block. I have content coming out of my pores. You want 600 words on maize production in the Andes? I’ll have it to you by Friday. How much do you pay a word?
Which book(s) do you return to again and again?
Same crap over and over. Nabokov’s Pnin, Chekhov’s collected stories, the entire oeuvre of Mary Gaitskill. God, can you believe I just used “oeuvre” in a sentence? Oberlin does shit like that to you.
Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
TV for sure. Better Call Saul basically makes life worth living these days and I pretty much came of age during the Sopranos, even though I was like 30.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
When I first met Philip Roth he told me not to eat butter. I’m not sure that counts as “writing” advice, but it’s kept me squarely in the 128-132 pound zone, which has made me super-hungry as a writer. That last sentence made no sense. I apologize. I’m in an airport lounge and the person next to me is talking about some kind of green Hawaiian turtle. I hate everything.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
I was growing up in Leningrad and I loved this book called The Wonderful Adventures of Nils which was about a Swedish boy who gets shrunk down to a tiny size and has to travel with these geese to Lapland. Russians are always trying to shrink Scandinavian people down to size, so it struck a chord. I also liked a Stalin-era translation of Tom Sawyer. Becky Thatcher was my first crush. If I had a fence, I would paint it.
Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read?
Everyone tells me I should read Jude the Obscure, but I have serious issues with obscurity.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Not really. I mean there are many books I like better than my own, but each writer has been put on this green earth by Beelzebub to write a very specific set of works. I’m about halfway done with mine. Can’t wait to retire already. Writing is super hard.