Commentary

Super-Funny True Author Satire

The online book trailer is one of the oddest aspects of the digital video marketing landscape. Does anyone know if these things sell books? And yet they have become a necessary part of the mix for book launches. As we noted months ago in this blog, the trailers have become impressively elaborate in some cases and often obscure and self-mocking. More than a few authors take a haughty view of the practice and make videos about how they can't believe they are making an online video for a book.

Not Gary Shteyngart, bless his heart. The satirist behind "The Russian Debutant's Handbook" and "Absurdistan" made a big splash this month with the launch of "Super Sad True Love Story," a comic love tale set in a tech dystopia in the near future. I have only cracked this book's first 50 pages or so but it is antic, frenetic and fun. Shteyngart himself is embracing all aspects of media self-promotion, in some ways embodying the very satire of emerging technology that is central to the novel. His online video is lit-vid of a new order. He takes on a hyper-Russian émigré persona, professes to be essentially illiterate, and recruits some of the new lions of the NY literary scene in walk-ons that are essentially video book blurbs.

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Just a few choice moments.

Edmund White on being told Shteyngart is teaching at Columbia: "They let him teach at Columbia? Oh my God. Poor kids."

Indeed, Prof. Shteyngart gives lessons in how to conduct oneself at a Paris Review party. Repeat after him, "Well, you know I do so much prefer early Ian McEwan to late Ian McEwan." When the class has trouble getting the snotty guffaw right, actor James Franco lends a hand.

Jeffrey Eugenides is here, comparing him to a scene in a Chekhov short story. "Guy from Star Trek writes stories?" Gary replies.

Eugenides has the best line of the piece. "Gary has been able to escape the 'anxiety of influence' by the sheer fact that he has never read a word."

Along the way he manages to play the oafish sexist while on a couch with Mary Gaitskill.

And of course it's Jay McInerney who comes to solve Gary's babe problems. Apparently he gets paid in debutante co-eds who have escaped from his closet. "This happens to me all the time. Vassar or Mount Holyoke?" McInerney asks.

Obviously, this trailer is advertising less the book itself than the author's own comic sensibility. What he wants us to buy into is the fact that he is funny, knowing and clever enough a satirist to poke fun at the entire New York literary scene effectively in a few minutes.

If the rest of the A-list of literary lights had this spirit of fun, perhaps we might see more of them pop up on the bestseller list from time to time.

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