If you are looking to take a break from digital video viewing and kick back this holiday weekend with a good book, you could do a lot worse than curling up with Gary Shteyngart's superb "Super Sad True Love Story." This dystopian satire is hands down one of the funniest things I have read in recent years -- now out in paperback.
What is a literary detour doing in the VidBlog, you may ask. Has old Professor Smith started missing the classroom? Don't worry, my fellow vid-heads. You won't be edified and uplifted, I assure you.
Shteyngart is turning out to be the Madonna of literary trailers. We have taken note of the weird phenom of literary videos in the past. To the best of my knowledge, no one knows whether these de rigueur vid clips tied to new releases actually help sales. At the very least, they gave us the actual voice of Thomas Pynchon hawking his own hard-boiled novel last year.
But it is Shteyngart who has proven the master of lit-vid. For the hardcover release of "Super Sad True Love Story," he gave us a self-deprecating send-up of this author's own illiteracy, with cameos from New York literary celebs. The Jay McInerney walk-on alone is worth the viewing. And for the paperback release, the author has gone Hollywood, or at least indie Hollywood, by having Paul Giamatti play himself as Shteyngart's house guest. This elaborate Adam Samberg-level skit finds the pair accepting an invitation to a Brooklyn reading, because we all know who shows up at book readings: cougars. Giamatti tries to instruct the hapless novelist in the art of capturing mature ladies who crave trysts with literary figures. Giamatti himself is trying to draft off of Shteyngart by living with this "Russian novelist." "We're like the Brothers Karamazov, only there are two of us," he says.
Shteyngart is that rara avis, a literary figure who really is embracing digital video as a mode of expression that complements his core medium. In addition to the specific promotions for this book, he shows up at the New Yorker Web site discussing his emigree experience. He gives great interviews to outlets such as DailyBeast, including discussion of how he got people like James Franco and Jay McInerney for his video.
On some level he understands the ways in which an open canvas like digital video can be used for branding. The videos don't hawk the book in any direct way so much as they advertise the author's sense of humor. You don't want to read that book, per se, so much as you want to read a book written by that guy. This is a lit-geek who understands his own brand.
And -- no, really -- if you know anything about McInerney (author of "Bright Lights, Big City"), you have to see his entrance into a room of Ivy League women in the original trailer.