Gary Shteyngart and the Art of Blurbing
Comic literary novelist Gary Shteyngart is almost as well known for his prolific blurbing of his fellow authors' work as he is for his critically acclaimed books, Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story.
In fact, his blurbing - while done sincerely - has now become an enormous literary in-joke, spawning a Tumblr, The Collected Blurbs of Gary Shteyngart, and now a documentary, Shteyngart Blurbs, narrated by Jonathan Ames. It features interviews with authors who have been the recipients of his generosity, from Molly Ringwald and Karen Russell (Swamplandia) to fellow ‘blurb whore’ A.J. Jacobs.
The documentary Shteyngart Blurbs, by Ed Champion. Narrated by Jonathan Ames.
‘He is the Balzac of blurbs,’ says Jacobs. ‘He has very strict requirements about what he will and won’t blurb. It must have 1/ two covers, 2/ a spine, 3/ an ISBN number. And then he will blurb and he will blurb hard.’
‘I’m trying to get people to read good, serious literary fiction, or good, funny literary fiction,’ explains Shteyngart himself. ‘And no hyperbole can be hyperbolic enough, because very few people want to read this stuff.’
‘I have to say, I am pretty proud of my blurbs. I think some of them are really, really good.’
He says his favourite was for Etgar Keret’s Missing Kissinger:
‘The best work of literature to come out of Israel in the last five thousand years—better than Leviticus and nearly as funny. Each page is a cut and polished gem. Do yourself a favor: walk over to the counter and buy this book now.’ — Gary Shteyngart
‘It’s the worst,’ says actress-turned-author Molly Ringwald on the business of trawling for blurbs. ‘It’s worse than auditioning for a movie. There’s something I find so incredibly humiliating about it.’
‘He was my first,’ she says of Shteyngart. ‘And your first is always special.’
‘Molly Ringwald understands how families work and uses her considerable talents to make them come alive on the page.’ — Gary Shteyngart
Her Pretty in Pink co-star Andrew McCarthy, who released his first book, a travel memoir, in the same year as Ringwald, also benefited from a Shteyngart blurb. Coincidence? (And is it just us, or does this one seem very carefully worded?)
‘It’s hard to write books that are both adventurous and touching, but Andrew McCarthy manages to pull it off and more! A smart, valuable book.’ — Gary Shteyngart
Karen Russell, whose book Swamplandia was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, remains eternally grateful for the blurb she received for her first book, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
‘There’s a way he’s capable of writing a sincere blurb while also poking fun at the whole idea of a blurb. It’s kind of a swami magic. I don’t know how he’s doing that.’
Here’s a perfect example, on A.M. Homes' May We Be Forgiven:
‘I started this book in the A.M., finished in the P.M., and couldn’t sleep all night. Ms. Homes just gets better and better.’ — Gary Shteyngart