If you won't read, then why should I write?

Jarett Kobek sources tales of celeb woe from Kim K's sex tape and Paris Hilton's club night run-ins

Arts+Culture Q+A
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"Will you guys film me and my sister?" asks Paris Hilton of a nearby cameraman. Dancing awkwardly with her sister Nicky Hilton to "Hypnotize" by Notorious B.I.G., she has a run in with another woman at the club, who calls Paris out for eyeing her husband. "She's scared of me, she's like, let's get away from her. Bitch. Fucking hoodlum broke poor bitch from like Compton. Like public school…"

These and many other quotable quotes of D-list celebrities are finally compiled into a thin volume called If You Won't Read, Then Why Should I Write? by Jarett Kobek. His follow-up to 2011's ATTAa fictional biography of 9/11 highjacker Muhammad Atta – is a great conversation starter for the TMZ crowd. Kobek spent hours combing the internet and lifting out the farcical bids for insanity from legitimate video of Kim Kardashian and Ray J, Pamela and Tommy, and Muammar Gaddafi and the enraged, blood-thirsty mob of Libyan rebels. Breaking up the transcriptions are panels detailing the celebrity's misdemeanours: Tommy Lee has has been charged 5 times and violated his parole in '05. Here, Kobek tells us how he's keeping up with the Kardashians…

Dazed Digital: How did you get all these crazy transcripts?

Jarett Kobek: With the celebrity stuff, it's self-generated. I sat around watching hours and hours of this crap, selected the moments that I thought were of maximum interest and then watched these selections over and over and over again until I had transcribed them with as much accuracy as possible. There were a few pre-existing transcripts in the news media, but I found these to be unreliable, as they were produced on deadlines by professionals not known for their exacting attention to detail or nuance. With the dictator death tapes, I don't speak Arabic, so I relied on previous sources and also enlisted the help of a few Arabic speakers, including a guy who'd picked the language up when he'd been in the US Army. The Gaddafi tape is very cobbled together as a result of the language being used. The Saddam one is accurate.

DD: How did you decide what to include in the book?

Jarett Kobek: I only picked stuff that I felt could sustain itself on the page. There's a two volume expanded edition DVD of Kim Kardashian and Ray J, and the 2nd disc is all the footage that wasn't used in the original release. None of the new material is sex. It's just them hanging out at the beach and in their hotel room. But beyond their visit to the airport Burger King at the LAX, the material lacked length and functional coherence.

DD: Anything you left out?

Jarett Kobek: There's nothing that I didn't use that was available to me at the time, except maybe a transcript of "The Shut Up Little Man" guys, which is an obvious predecessor in its voyeurism.  I wish the book had happened a year later, though, so I could have included material about Sydney Leathers, who is the single most interesting person in American life.

In a brattish fit of pique, I decided that people were idiots without interest in anything except the filth of celebrity culture. So why not just give people what they want?

DD: What gave you the idea to do this?

Jarett Kobek: I'm an immensely spoiled person. When my book ATTA came out, I was disappointed that it hadn't set the world on fire and caused the collapse of human civilization. (Despite it doing very well both in sales for a small press title and in its reception. People are writing dissertations on it and teaching it at university and it was just published in Spain by Alpha Decay.) In a brattish fit of pique, I decided that people were idiots without interest in anything except the filth of celebrity culture. So why not just give people what they want? Thus the title: "You don't want to read. I don't want to write. Here's how we can still have books. Are you happy now? Or is this not enough?"

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Photo courtesy of Penny-Ante Editions

DD: Your novel ATTA (2011) was a fictional biography of 9/11 highjacker Muhammad Atta, and you soon have your second novel out, BTW: A Novel. How might these works be related?

Jarett Kobek: I think of each book as building on the previous ones. So with If You Won't Read, there's the inclusion of the dictator death tapes in countries with predominantly Muslim populations, an obvious and specific callback to both the themes of ATTA and its content. With BTW, the text is heavily informed by the themes of the previous books. There's a lot in there about the vacuity of celebrity culture and reality TV, and I've attempted to filter it through the engagement of interesting, readable literature. Because why shouldn't literary novels attempt to wrestle this material to the ground and synthesize it into something usable and intelligent? I've been told it works really well!

DD: Is there a message?

Jarett Kobek: I think of it more like a biopsy of our moment. Consider the Ballard quote on Crash: "I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror." The reader can draw her own inferences.

If You Won't Read, Then Why Should I Write? by Jarett Kobek is available now by Penny-Ante Editions

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