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New Yorker Festival: Gary Shteyngart, Peter Carey, Hari Kunzru

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The head of the New Yorker fact-checking department, Peter Canby, moderated the “Discussion Among Writers” with Hari Kunzru, Peter Carey, and Gary Shteyngart, on the subject of “Outlaws.” It was a less freewheeling session than the one in the same space an hour earlier. Canby’s questions tended to be feature lengthy quotations from the writers’ works. And there was less crosstalk, the responses conforming more to the two-minute time limits imposed on the likes of Sarah Palin the night before.

Speaking of whom, about midway through Carey mischievously inquired what Ms. Palin would make of one of Canby’s hifalutin questions. It must be said, though, that Canby’s method worked, as all three writers supplied informative and engaging answers and Shteyngart supplied enough humor in an hour to power the next ten Festivals in the event that angry Ted Stevens takes the Festival over.

Indeed, I’ll succumb to a temptation to turn over the bulk of this post to his quips. Describing his homeland Russia as still in a “pre-therapeutic” phase, he plans to “airlift eight thousand Park Slope social workers” to the vast country to bring it up to speed. Musing on the domesticated status of American writers, hostage to 401(k) plans and health care fees, he contrasted his lot with that of the Lost Generation: If the Spanish Civil War reasserted itself, unlike Hemingway “I’d only go if Iberia had a good frequent flyer plan…. I’m not flying coach to a war.”

An audience question about each writer’s favorite book elicited groans from the panel—but also revealing answers (well done, questioner!). Kunzru stated that the last novel that made an impression on him was Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays, so he now wants to migrate to California and wear a dress. Carey expressed an admiration for droll and dyspeptic Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard, and Shteyngart professed to read Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin once a month.

One thing about these panels—you do come away with a solid impression of the participants. The Friday author sessions remain the ideal way to kick off the Festival weekend.


If you care, this person live-tweeted from one of the Festival’s comedy panels. The series starts with this tweet, and continues thru quite a few others. It makes for a quick but entertaining read if you’re into that sort of thing and have a few moments to blow. (She - I’m assuming - appears to have also Tweeted from another, earlier panel but those mostly-out-of-context tweets are considerably less entertaining.)

Yes, Rachel Sklar has been a tireless Twitterer during the Festival. She writes for the Huffington Post. Here’s her exhaustive report on the Colbert appearance.

Ah. I suppose I could’ve Googled her, but that would’ve required me to be a little less tragically lazy. Carry on. And thanks for the link.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree