You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel?
Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting?
Each week, host Jason Gots surprises some of the world's brightest minds with ideas they're not at all prepared to discuss. Join us and special guests Neil Gaiman, Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Maria Popova, Mary-Louise Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many more...
Gary Shteyngart: reality catches up to dystopian fiction
Our modern-day Kafka on his new novel Lake Success and the dark comedy that in 2018 pretty much writes itself
- riding the Greyhounds of hell, from New York to El Paso
- the alternate reality of hedge fund traders
Gary Shteyngart's new novel Lake Success is the evil doppelgänger of the Simon and Garfunkel song 'America'. In what is surely destined to become one of those legendary novel openings, right up there with "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," we meet Barry Cohen, "a man with 2.4 billion dollars of assets under management . . ." in a Greyhound Bus Terminal at 3:20 am, bleeding from his face and drunk on $20,000 of Japanese whiskey.
Shteyngart is one of my favorite writers ever. In the three books I've read—a memoir and two novels—we are sad, basically good-hearted schmos twisted into balloon animals by an uncaring world. Or . . . wait . . . the world is made of us…so…how good hearted are we, really?
Born in the USSR, Shteyngart emigrated to Queens as a kid. In his memoir Little Failure he describes his first experience of American cereal: "It tastes grainy easy and light, with a hint of false fruitiness. It tastes the way America feels."
It tastes the way America feels.
Like Paul Simon in the song, Barry Cohen has walked…or stumbled drunkenly…off to look for America. By almost any measure he is a horrible person. He's also a sad, basically good-hearted schmo twisted in into a balloon animal by the world. And maybe America is a false, fruity mirror in which, the harder you look, the more you end up seeing yourself.
Surprise conversation starter clips in this episode:
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
How do you write away the personal hole in your heart when that hole was left by a man half the world idolizes? Steve Jobs' daughter, the writer Lisa Brennan-Jobs, on the process and effects of writing her beautiful memoir SMALL FRY.
- "If I hadn't gone back with a fine-toothed-comb, a lot of these assumptions I had would have just been the air I breathed into my future."
- "There is something like theft in a memoir. If you want to write about yourself you have to write about other people who are unwitting and don't want to be written about…"
Artist, "bird noticer", and concerned citizen of the digital state of the world Jenny Odell looks at many different ways of resisting the attention economy, sinking into the reality of our lives, and finding solidarity and agency with others.
- "Someone is defining the terms already by asking the question. And if you're not attentive, you will accept those terms."
- "It's really hard to draw a hard line around an entity in any ecological system. And I think this is a great description of the self, too."
Picking up the thread of a conversation they started two decades ago in Jerusalem, with some help from Lenny Bruce, philosopher Martha Nussbaum, and other influences along the way, host Jason Gots and Williams College professor Jeffrey Israel go deep on private grievances, public life, and where the two overlap.
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