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:
Killer robots. Alien invasions. Climate change. Josh Clark of Stuff You Should Know and the new podcast The End of the World thinks a lot these days about existential threats. Believe it or not, he's optimistic.
- Could the threat of extinction be humanity's opportunity to get our collective s#*t together?
- Two centuries since the Enlightenment, the war between reason and belief is still raging. Why?
- Why is it still hard to explain to some people what a podcast is?
- Why hasn't technology given us more freedom?
- Why is eternal life not desirable?
- Why don't Universal Basic Income and other forms of redistribution solve the underlying problem?
In the 1980's, Northeast Portland was a black neighborhood hustling to survive. Today, it's full of pilates studios and handlebar moustaches. As a writer, professor, and former inmate, Mitchell S. Jackson has lived in and learned from both worlds. In SURVIVAL MATH, he puts the pieces together.
- An open letter to Markus, the first black American to live—and immediately die—on Oregon soil.
- "Nobody gets a pass. And everybody gets a pass. If you take a broad look at anyone's circumstances, it's hard to convict them of just being a terrible person."
- "Portland's a utopia now…but I wonder if they know what it cost?"
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