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Must watch: ‘Super Sad True Love Story’

Larry Ryan
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  • Arts
  • Last updated: Thursday, 12 August 2010 at 3:52 pm

I first noticed this when the highly regarded Russian-America author Gary Shteyngart was interviewed on Kurt Anderson’s radio show a few weeks back. The writer’s new novel Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian satire set in the not too distant American future, is getting rave reviews in the US at the moment (read a few here, here and here). It’s released in the UK in September through Granta Books.

To promote the novel he put out this humourous “book trailer” featuring a caricature of himself alongside some star cameos. As with the role play video website for Bret Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedrooms, I think we’re going to see increasingly elaborate efforts by publishers to promote books online, moving beyond your standard tours and signing sessions in Waterstones.

This Shteyngart effort is one of the better ones thus far…

Among other things, the video rightly pokes fun at the cottage industry that is the book blurb; wherein esteemed writers provide advanced quotes of a new book to go on its hardback jacket. Often these can seem phoned in (most literally are), as if whoever gave the quote has only read about half a chapter or is being politely vague.

Frequently too, they are excessively effusive – hence they go on the jacket. Nicole Krauss recently got some stick for a hyperbolic blurb she wrote for Davide Grossman’s new novel. Tom Sutcliffe wrote well about it for the paper a few weeks ago.

Though it doesn’t come up in the video, another area of book publishing ripe to be poked fun at is the acknowledgements page. The thought struck me while reading the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (itself a recipient of numerous effusive puff quotes from fellow authors).

Usually such acknowledgements take the form of gratitude to ones partner, a nod to an agent, a wink to someone at Knopf, Random House or FSG and warm gratitude to the Corporation of Yaddo, but Davis muddies the water a little bit.

The writer’s work is celebrated for it spare experimental style, with stories frequently no longer than a sentence or a paragraph. She is also often self-reflexive and plays with the notion of the author within the stories themselves. Thus she concludes her 2001 collection Samuel Johnson Is Indignant with this,

Acknowledgment

I have only to add
that the plates in the present volume
have been carefully re-etched
by Mr. Cuff.

Is this a story or an actual acknowledgement? Is Mr Cuff real or fictional? I guess we’ll never know. But it’s certainly more interesting than “I could not have done this without the help of…”

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