Gary Shteyngart on humor in the novel

Humor is what I have […] without humor, I can’t go on, and I doubt many of my readers would go on either. Humor is so important. I am here to have fun, too, with my work. I’m here to entertain people. Remember when you used to wake up and think well God, I gotta run to the bookstore and X’s book is coming out, I can’t wait to read it, it’s going to be funny, it’s going to be sharp, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Somehow, that kind of literature has begun to escape. I mean, there’s a very kind of mass market literature, but a lot of the other kind of literature has become very academic. A lot of it is taught at MFA programs […] A lot of it can be beautifully sculpted, wonderfully written, like a a little FabergĂ© egg, and at the same time miss the vitality, the humor, the feelings of being in love, and the worry about death that often gives rise to the highest order of humor of all […] I want fiction to remain a vital force for entertainment, and not just for contemplation.

That’s from Shteyngart’s interview on Fresh Air. Maybe one problem is that, as Milan Kundera says in Encounter, “… only a sense of humor can discern the humorlessness in others.” The humorless can speak to each other more easily than the humorless can speak to the humored, or vice-versa. Or, as Christopher Hitchens writes in his memoir, Hitch-22, “[Martin Amis] once rebuked some pedantic antagonist by saying that the man lacked any sense of humor, but added that by this accusation he really intended to impugn his want of seriousness.” Maybe the ultimate seriousness is a return to the playful style of childhood, which gets beaten out and eventually re-embraced over time.

%d bloggers like this: