April 18, 2014
Gary Shteyngart retires from blurbing
by Kirsten Reach
Book jackets will be a little bare in coming months. A prolific blurber has stepped down.
Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story, has endorsed more than a hundred books in the last ten years. His collected blurbs have their own Tumblr. Somewhere on the internet, there is probably a Shteyngart blurb generator. But he’s decided to call it quits, at least for now.
I’ve got a soft spot for Shteyngart’s blurbs, even if he feels he has saturated the marketplace. His words were always a little off-kilter in a way that made you pay attention, and felt more genuine as a result:
“The City of Devi is so exuberant and sexy, one may wish to purchase a prophylactic alongside it. When the world comes to an end, I will spend my last days in Mumbai clutching a copy of Manil Suri’s dazzling epic.”
“I like Patrick Wensink’s work so much my heart had to issue its own cease-and-desist order.”
“A terrifyingly original writer, José Manuel Prieto’s prose shakes the walls of the literary kingdom.”
“Suck it, Proust. This book about stuff is much better than those things you wrote.”
In a world of book jackets littered with phrases like “tour de force” or “writer to watch,” Shteyngart’s blurbs stand out. The man has a flair for endorsements. He has a voice that is strong enough to sound like him in just a sentence or two, and he wasn’t stingy with his praise.
What a generous guy! It takes time to come up with a ringing endorsement (not to mention the time it takes to read the damn book!). In the editorial department, we are often sweating over the proper authors to nag, and the most tactful way to beg for people-who-read-more-than-anybody to also read this bound proof of an author they’ve never heard of. Sometimes, miraculously, they come through.
Most don’t. We’re in need of more Shteyngarts to get some good books off the ground.
In The New Yorker this week, he submits a resignation letter:
During the past ten years, it has been my pleasure and honor to blurb over a hundred and fifty books. It is with deep sadness that I announce that the volume of requests has exceeded my abilities, and I will be throwing my “blurbing pen” into the Hudson River during a future ceremony, time and place to be determined.
However, I will continue to blurb the following individuals: all former, present, and future students of mine at Columbia University; authors of my Random House editor, David Ebershoff; authors of my agent, Denise Shannon; my B.F.F.s; authors who can prove they own a long-haired dachshund and are taking good care of same; all authors with Ukrainian citizenship (out of sympathy for the sad new political realities); anyone who has held my hand while I’ve freaked out for some reason; anyone with the first name Daria or the last name Lipschitz.
Literature can and will go on without my mass blurbing. Perhaps it may even improve.
In December, he was asked on Twitter whether he could blurb his own blurbs. “Gary Shteyngart’s blurbs are touching, funny and true. This is a blurber to watch,” he replied. We’ll miss you, Gary.
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.