Books 2006: Foer, Shteyngart and Kunkel

Foer, Shteyngart and KunkelI don’t enjoy the idea of ranking books the way I do music because it’d be too much like ranking my reaction to reading them. Which would be odd to say the least. Plus, the books I read in a particular year have not necessarily been released at the same time. In 2006, I made the discovery of a great trinity of writers, which have in common a whole bunch of awesomeness–if not generally roaring reviews

They are, in no particular order, Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything is Illuminated” and “”Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”), Gary Shteyngart (“The Russian Debutante’s Handbook” and “Absurdistan”) and Benjamin Kunkel (“Indecision”). (Follow the links for more info on the authors and their books).

These young writers are hilarious, touching, but most of all, incredible storytellers and character builders. One might argue almost all the characters, including Foer’s 10-year-old Oskar, are on a quest to find themselves and their place in the world. In addition, Shteyngart’s Russian men are two of a kind in their dimwitted capacity to overcome the weirdest and deadliest of Central and Eastern Europe’s problems. And Kunkel’s Dwight, well, it’s hard to decide, dude.

Go here for some of my rants on Foer. Read on for some amazing excerpts from Shteyngart and Kunkel.

From “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook”:

* Scene takes place in the early 1990s in a Prague club populated by the hip, family-financed American expats. They had just been insulted by music choice (“How Cleveland,” one said) and are now staring at some regular young American tourists in Ohio State tees, carrying backpacks:

“They are our mortal enemies. They must be destroyed, torn apart by the babushkas like a ham on Christmas, dragged by the trams through the twelve bridges of Prava, hung from the highest spire of St. Stanislaus.”

* On picking a movie in early 1990s Prague:

According to the paper, Prava was awash with Hollywood movies, each stupider than the next. They finally settled on a drama about a gay lawyer with AIDS, which was apparently a big hit in the States and was approved by many of that nation’s sensitive people.

* American-Russian hero Vladimir pondering introducing his girlfriend to the Russian mobster he works for.

Vladimir imagined Morgan and the Groundhog breaking break at the weekly biznesmenski lunch, with its customary postprandial discharge of weapons, deflowered Kasino girls going down on the Hog to the tune of ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me,” Gusev drunkenly railing against the Yid-Masonic global conspiracy.

* I reproduced a lovely segment featuring Vladimir and Morgan here.

From “Indecision”:

* Dwight tells Brigid about his desire to not be so indecisive anymore and take action.

“But a convert to what do you mean?”
“I don’t know. To action! I was tired of doing just maintenance work on my life. You know, put on clothes, do laundry. Eat food, brush teeth. Excrete waste. Go to work. Have or seek girlfriend—“

* Dwight on modern life.

In my experience when a person doesn’t know what to do with himself, he will check his email.

* One of Dwight’s friend mocks the hero’s recent conversion to decisiveness.

“So in Ecuador you had a midlife crisis,” Dan said. “Dwight, people don’t do this anymore. You don’t fly to Latin America, take psychedelic drugs, and find sexual liberation with some suntanned goddess of international socialism. Excuse me,” he said to Brigid. Then back to me: “Now is not thirty-five years ago.”

One Response to “Books 2006: Foer, Shteyngart and Kunkel”

  1. Following your recommendation, I picked up a copy of Shteyngart’s Handbook and I am loving it. I am only halfway through it, but I already know it’s going to be the book I lend to all my friends. So sensitive, honest, and funny. My favorite quote so far, about a bar in NY’s meat-packing district:
    “Below [the ceiling of the bar] one could also be as anachronistic as needed: put some Lynyrd Skynyrd on the jukebox, whip out a stick of beef jerkey, ruminate out loud on the contours of the waitress, or watch a trio of emaciated graduate students standing around the pool table with their cue sticks at attention, as if waiting for funding to appear. The usual crowd.”

    Thank you!

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