Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lee Konstantinou

Lee Konstantinou is a writer and a doctoral candidate in the English department at Stanford interested in contemporary literature, pop culture, and political economy. His dissertation-in-progress is titled “Wipe That Smirk off Your Face: Postironic Fiction and the Public Sphere,” which “studies authors who have sought to transcend what they see as the pernicious power of postmodern irony.”

His first novel, Pop Apocalypse, is just out from Ecco/HarperCollins.

A few days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Most of what I read is related to something I’m writing or something I’m teaching.

I’ve been working on a dissertation chapter on David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers, so right now I’m rereading novels, essays, and stories by Wallace, and related criticism. As I’ve trekked from café to café around San Francisco, I’ve been carrying Wallace’s thousand-page backbreaking novel, Infinite Jest, which is I should say a pretty stunningly impressive piece of writing, especially when you learn how quickly Wallace wrote the book, and study how profoundly he singlehandedly managed to change the landscape of ambitious postmodern-type fiction. I’ve also just started reading Dave Eggers’ What is the What. So far, so good.

When not reading for my dissertation, I’ve been searching for novels for a Stanford Continuing Studies novel-writing course I’m going to be teaching this summer. I just read J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Disgrace is a deeply disturbing and engrossing read, not for people who prefer their literary protagonists to be sympathetic or their stories to be all sweetness and light. I loved it. Coetzee manages to do something very powerful with his direct, unadorned prose. It’s a good corrective to the tendency I find in a lot of contemporary novelists to overwrite, to so bog down every sentence with metaphors, needlessly complex syntax, and “literary” vocabularies that you lose your characters and story. I’ve also just read Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, which all these years later manages to remain hilariously vulgar. I'll find a way to incorporate these books into my class, I think.

When I can spare the time, I’m also reading books and articles as research toward my second novel. Lots of these I can’t recommend, but one book I’d highlight is Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda, a really eye-opening look at how the terrorist organization was born and how it really operates. The key argument here is that al-Qaeda is less of an “organization,” as we understand the word, and more of a clearinghouse or venture capitalist firm for Islamic terrorism, a network of networks.

For a reading group I’m in—one of my few islands of purely fun reading—I’ve been making my way through Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. I’m done with the first three books, which are pretty compelling, and I’m about to start the long fourth book on the murders in Sonora. Wish me luck with that.
Learn more about Lee Konstantinou and his work at his website and on Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, or his blogs (Kitteneater, his travel blog, and his Red Room blog).

--Marshal Zeringue