Author Archives: Bill Ryan

Gary Shteyngart, Chicken-lover, Reading from Super Sad True Love Story | Green Light Bookstore

Gary Shteyngart Reading Super Sad True Love Story

Gary Shteyngart signed book

I was wearing a T-shirt that read, Kentucky: Not Just Fried Chicken

This write-up was another post that I’ve struggled to release. I wanted to write something interesting and preferably humorous about the evening because Gary Shteyngart and his novel, Super Sad True Love Story, are intelligent and funny. I found myself unable to create a coherent message about what I was reading, what I witnessed and felt, and how that interacts with who I was and what I was doing. Some sort of blockage was happening, as paralyzing as it was frightening.

I’m going to probably stray into maudlin territory. I apologize; this was the only way I could get something out.

My girlfriend, and sometimes co-writer, goes out of her way to share the things I enjoy: literature, readings, insults, corgis. She is my conspirator in many of these signings, sitting next to me in hard plastic seats, chatting and offering a little shove of encouragement to wait in line for an insult. She’s the extra motivation I often need to even board the train out to Brooklyn after a 9-6 day of wageslaving.

On what was an otherwise amazing evening, with Shteyngart sounding easy and relaxed, entertaining his Brooklyn neighbors, I’ll remember Gary Shteyngart’s reading as the first time I fucked up bad enough to make my best friend cry.

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Dear Karen Russell, If You Need Someone to Take a Bullet for You…

Karen Russell & Wells Tower Discussing Swamplandia!

Karen Russell signed book

My 5th grade psychotherapist did say I was a manipulative prick

Karen Russell knows how to make a little blogger’s quiet heart squeal with joy.

Not only did she and Wells Tower engage in some hot back and forth over writing, novels, Florida, Southern Gothic, and Columbia University; not only did I get top-notch insults from two of the New Yorker Magazine’s “30 Under 40” stud authors; not only did I eat crackers and cheese, with grapes and a bit of wine; not only were those vittles provided gratis by the NYPL and its Young Lions program; not only did I get yelled at only once for breaking some invisible line separating the cheese servers’ side of the buffet from the cheese eaters’ side of the buffet, mostly because my love of Brie demanded I get around the old lady taking her sweet time with a couple strawberry slices; not only did all of this go abnormally, amazingly well, but Russell sent me spinning by saying:

  • I was wondering if/when (ed: can’t remember which) you would come for my insult.
  • The people at Powell’s (awesome bookstore in Portland, OR) told me to watch out for you.

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Tao Lin Confuses the Fuck Out of Me | B&N Tribeca

Tao Lin Reading – Richard Yates

Tao Lin signed book

Tao Lin, darling of the sweatpants mafia

What the hell is going on when Tao Lin reads at the same type of corporate bookstore from which his “protagonist” steals books in his new novel, Richard Yates? Why does Lin’s muddled, muffled, painfully awkward high school sophomore-on-Xanax voice sometimes feel like an act, and Yates is his alibi? How is it that none of this matters, that Richard Yates might be an important comment on modern life, or it might be a hybrid cash-in novel based on a copy/paste transcript of a melodramatic Gmail relationship?

I’m stumped. There seems to be something going on here, but I’m not intelligent enough to suss it out. Three weeks I’ve struggled with this constipated idea and now I need to shit it out.

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I Yearn for a Sex Change | Amy Sedaris Reading @ Barnes & Noble

Amy Sedaris NYC Reading

Given my experience, I'd say I'm lacking the aridity and paucity

Amy Sedaris draws a young, excited crowd. Even at the very back of a packed Barnes & Noble reading space (where I was stuck squinting up at the craft-related action on-stage), otherwise jaded and cynical hipster-types — types who’d normally sneer at any physical show of excitement or participation — jumped out of their chairs in response to a call for questions. I counted at least 10 Sedaris fans, some uttering little unconscious “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” noises you get from little Kids Who Know, arms raised high in classic elementary school fashion or the double-armed waving “stranded in the middle of a lake on a boat with a dead motor” SOS manner.

Despite the distance and absolute certainty that she would not be called on, one girl in my row clutched at her scarf and bounced up and down, standing with one foot propped on the seat of her chair like she couldn’t quite commit to full-out Standing-On-a-Chair-level-desperation in front of peers. This was some serious arm-raising, designed to attract the gaze of a possibly myopic (judging by her glasses) Ms. Sedaris, all to ask that burning “‘Candy” question and satisfy some core-level need for star-fucking.

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The Sultan of Insults, Salman Rushdie: Gods Behaving Badly | 192 Books

Salman Rushdie 192 Books

Mancrush: confirmed

Salman Rushdie was tired. He peered at the crowd with hooded eyes as he stepped up to the podium, his body language screaming “fuck the Q&A.” This was the last stop on his reading tour for Luka and the Fire of Life, he admitted to a bit of fatigue.

Ah, but his voice! Rich and reassuring, with a drummer’s knack for varying tempo to change the mood. He is every inch a storyteller, a veteran professor working an old lesson plan on a fresh class of students. He read mostly from memory, stopping to look at the book almost as if to keep him on-task; it was like he was tempted to riff off the words on the page like good bands improvise off old songs, new notes and progressions unique to the moment or venue, a singular treat for the audience.

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You Are Not Smarter than Paul Harding | 192 Books

Paul Harding signed book

More than a little Don Rickles

Fellow lovers of literature and audience members: shut up. I’m not interested. The author isn’t. Neither is your mom, your wife, or your dog. The audience is rolling its eyes and looking at its watch. More than likely, you’re not interested in what you’re saying, either.

You’re talking to hear/watch/feel yourself being listened to by Intelligent People.

Back when I was a cute, trim college student, living in a rotting shitbox near school with a fellow acolyte of youth, invulnerability, and alcohol, I fucking loved to hear myself being intelligent. To float above myself, mind’s eye steered by co-captains, Arrogance & Obliviousness, taking in the crowd’s appreciation of my interesting ideas. Like looking at myself in the mirror and managing to see studflesh and allure where there was nothing but a spare tire and the self-awareness of an autistic puppy. I’d peruse the author’s content, think of some unique position to take, back it up with pagination and direct quotes, and poof! I was out on the town, seen by some pretty girls and maybe some classmates, Being Intelligent w/ Other Intelligent People.

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Tom McCarthy, a Gentleman Wouldn’t Use That Language with the Fairer Sex! | McNally Jackson Books

Tom McCarthy signed book

Sit and spin, Tom!

Ed. note: Andrea, Bringer of Happiness and Provider of Sexytimes, has taken over the narrative for this post. Enjoy.

I was entrusted a few months ago with the weighty task of attending Tom McCarthy’s reading at McNally Jackson Books (had my delinquency in writing this post been known at the time, I am not sure I would have been given this opportunity). I’d been to one prior reading at this venue and found it to be civilized enough to provide a relaxed setting for a reading. However, The Insulted had advised me to turn away if it looked like Mr. McCarthy’s audience looked like a rowdy pack.

Quite the contrary – things were very orderly and although all of the seats were soon filled, everyone was polite. Per instructions received, I sat at the front right corner so as to be well-positioned for the reading. I felt like a bit of a fraud – I had no clue as to what his new book was about, nor did I know anything about the author himself and his oeuvre. The audience was quite diverse, so that didn’t give me any sense of what I was about to hear. I sat next to some tittering British art school students. There were also some journalistic types taking notes throughout the reading.

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Adam Ross Brutally Violates my Imagination, Famous Top-Hatted Corporate Mascot of my Youth | Mysterious Bookshop

Adam Ross Mr Peanut

Don't ask what he does with the monocle and foppish cane

Adam Ross made a pitstop at the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca to put his throbbing, generously proportioned Hancock in a few sultry books.

I wasn’t there as it wasn’t a reading, but more of a “stop in and sign a few books for the owners” sort of thing. To get my insult, I begged and pleaded and finally left the store with promises that I’d get my book signed, “Bill + Insult.”

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Jennifer Egan Reads from Goon Squad, Discusses Craft with Glenn Kurtz | McNally Jackson Books

Jennifer Egan The Keep

Fellowship is not a substitute for penmanship, Mrs. Egan

Fellow illegible scrawler Jennifer Egan read from her newest novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, then discussed her writing process with fellow writer Glenn Kurtz.

I showed up about a quarter to seven and frowned at the house. Almost turned around and went home; one of those nights where a beer and a couch sounded better than a discussion about the craft of writing. Glad I didn’t.

Egan reads with a soothing voice, a good handle on the “ups” and “downs” in tone and speed that quite a few authors surprisingly lack. Her voice reminded me of the “folk storytellers” who eke out an existence on the grade school circuit, somehow convincing principals that helping keep alive the DYING ART OF STORYTELLING is worth more than a new computer or more crappy plastic playground material to replace the entertaining wooden death structures of my playground youth. I loved those storytellers even though they were unabashedly lame, and all the video games in Tokyo couldn’t get me to say otherwise. The stupid over-enunciating, the bombastic movements and vocalized sound effects. Usually silk scarves, beads of some sort, like they mixed up “Gypsy” and “Hippie” as children and never quite resolved the differences. Were they dressed as the lovable, sagacious scamp from their stories or was that just the way they dressed? I’ll never know. But their voices were pure peanut butter, and Egan’s was Skippy Lite.

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David Means Is Not Fucking Around

David Means The Spot

David Means wrote this insult with ink made from orphan tears

I bought two copies of Means’ new collection of short stories, The Spot. One for him to sign, the other to leave in the Kids’ section of my local library, looking innocuous if inconspicuous, its cover lacking the cheerful collection of primary colors and anthropomorphic animals one normally finds in the Children section of the local library. Ready to permanently scar some unsuspecting Eager Beaver Reader into wanting to become a short story author.

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