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A quick riffle through entries that I have uploaded but not published (there's a difference) informs me that I haven't mentioned Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan here except in passing. The video of his New Yorker Festival reading reminded me how much funnier the circumcision passage was when he read it aloud. This is unusual: writers, in my experience, rarely bring much interpretive force to readings from their own work. Perhaps they've been coached: a good reading might deprecate the value of merely printed text in saleable books. Something like that happened here. If the key to a deeper appreciation of a novel is hearing the book read interpretively, then, in my view, there's something that the author forgot to write down.

This observation genuinely pains me. Mr Shteyngart's imaginative generosity is extraordinary. At Portico, I wrap by judging Absurdistan to be "too cynical to be genuinely literary." Perhaps that's too strong. Perhaps, instead of "literary," I ought to have said "novelistic."

Read about Absurdistan at Portico.


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I have seen Mr. Shteyngart read twice, once from Absurdistan, and once from his first novel. His delivery is superb, and he is a remarkably good off-the-cuff verbal storyteller as well. I am eternally kicking myself for not asking him to discuss the overlap between his buffoonish Soviet-block characters and Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat character, where I see a fair amount of common ground. Now it's too late; the movie "Borat" is about to come out, and it will be surrounded with too much pop-cult noise to make any real sense of him any longer (though I find him howlingly funny, and am glad to see such glowing advance reviews of the movie.)

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