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Food vs. Books: An Interview With Porochista Khakpour

Tao Lin interviews Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects.

3:AM: Your MySpace says you like Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. When did you first read that and how did you come to read it?

PK: I just read it last year. My friend Jonathan Ames was constantly recommending it and also referred to it in a very poignant moment in one of his essays, so I was curious. I had recommended Light Years to him and he read and liked it and said this was in the same vein. I finally read it, while pretending to fulfill shopgirl duties on Rodeo Drive in LA. Jonathan had been very worried that in the last year I was rather fragile and maybe I couldn’t handle it, but somehow I lived through it. It is a very moving book. Killer. One of those truer-than-life books. You read it, you look at your loved ones, think about how you all have to die, and just want to give up right then. And then you have a Frappuccino and pay a bill. . .very bizarrely, after all that, life still goes on. That’s the crazy part.

3:AM: What do you think the movie starring the people from Titanic based on Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road is going to be like? Will you like it do you think?

PK: Like all reasonable human beings who love the book, I am appalled. (But this is not to say I am against all literary films — it is very possible to have a movie be better than a book, I believe — and in my own head, I fantasize about Jason Schwartzman and the dad from The Wonder Years starring as the father and son in my novel. Or, what the hell, Fred Savage.)  Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are not what I imagined. I mean, really, Titanic and Revolutionary Road have nothing in common – what sort of movie was this? Revolutionary Road is actually devastating, a huge tragedy. You know? And was Kathy Bates really in Titanic? I must have snoozed through that sexy minute! I guess, like  many writers, I remember her from, um, another movie.  For a second, I fantasized about a twisted Titanic-Misery mash-up. I wish Kathy Bates would amputate Leonardo’s pretty legs in the end. I don’t know, maybe she would be okay as Mrs. Givings. Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life would be better, but not sure she has “star power” these days, so fair enough.

3:AM: What did you do in New York City for the last ten years?

PK: I was a college student (Sarah Lawrence), intern (Village Voice, RayGun, Paper, Spin), Urban Outfitters employee, marketing assistant, bar reviewer, music critic, grad student (Johns Hopkins), hostess, fit model, hair model, bar columnist, staff writer, babysitter, dogwalker, nanny, tutor, Rodeo Drive shopgirl, assistant fashion stylist, fashion editor, and freelance journalist. I lived in Park Slope three times, the East Village four times, Baltimore, Chicago, and Oxford. Many stints of being unemployed.

3:AM: What do you think of writers people will group you with: immigrant writers, writers-of-color, female Iranian writers, etc?”

PK: I wish they were better. Some are good, but many are bad. So goes the lit world. I really hate when it is blatantly apparent some writer got a book deal for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes I read a writer that perhaps is visually closer to me than say Don Delillo and I think about  a sort of affirmative action in the literary world that has something to do with countries we are at war with, countries we *may* be at war with, countries we are robbing, or countries we have demolished. I also wish these writers didn’t always take themselves so seriously. Sometimes their saccharine sincerity, their perfect poise, their over-articulacy, their calculated acceptability, it all makes me feel like I have the responsibility to become some sort of literary Amy Winehouse and curse, hiccup, and trip my way through their whole pretty parade, you know? Sometimes, as the Beach Boys say, I wish they all could be California Girls.

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3:AM: What’s the most “depressing” (in a good way) short story you’ve read?

PK: A tie between Salinger’s masterpiece, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst, a terrible heartbreaking short story they make kids read in junior high. For over four decades in this country, they have tortured schoolkids with the tale of the invalid Doodle, the narrator’s brother, who — spoiler! — dies tragically trying to follow his bossy brother through Old Woman Swamp. It traumatized me as a child and I shudder at the very thought of rereading it. I can’t remember if it was well-written, but, boy, was it depressing.

3:AM: I know you like Lorrie Moore. Can you talk about your history of reading Lorrie Moore?

PK:  I think a former teacher had me read her essay about writing when I was her student. I immediately thought — with the arrogance of pretentious liberal arts kids — wait, this writer thinks like me! Then I read her novel, which was a mistake. I went back and read all of her short fiction and cursed the world for making her so goddamn good.

3:AM: Would you rather have all pleasure related to eating food be taken away from you or for you never to be able to read a book again (you could still write and listen to music and read lyrics and watch movies)? 

PK: This might be the most difficult question I have ever been asked. I was a bar critic for a while but turned them all into restaurant reviews (mostly out of poverty). I have felt starving my whole life. I am an overeater. The only thing I can count on each and every day is The Next Meal. Even if that meal is a Subway sandwich or something worse. I was always taught to finish what was on my plate, so for me eating is a serious investment of time and energy and to a lesser degree money.

Sometimes I am not a good reader — sometimes, I will just read the beginning to “get” what the writer is doing and then I put it down. Whereas I have a real need to write, I don’t always need to read. Reading is often a disappointment. Eating rarely is — maybe I have lower standards when it comes to food? Oh, I don’t know. This question is a minefield. It has me in a cold sweat.

3:AM: What are you writing now? Do you have short stories?

PK: I am writing short stories for the first time in four years. It feels rather foreign to me. I worried about it at first — like, what’s next, writing poetry?! Yikes! — but luckily I still want to write novels. The short stories feel like an escape from the novel I have to get to. I like it when writing is a way of procrastinating from other writing.

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Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran, Iran in 1978 and her first language is Farsi. She was raised in the Los Angeles area. Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Reader, The Village Voice, nymag.com, Paper, Nylon, Gear, Alef, spin.com, Flaunt, Bidoun, and nerve.com, among others. She currently lives in New York City.

Her debut novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick, was released in September 2007.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, September 20th, 2007.