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SHEILAH KAST, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Sheilah Kast, sitting in for Liane Hansen.

For our Summer Reading series this week, we spoke with Kristen Kulinowski, a researcher at Rice University in Texas. Kristen Kulinowski is the executive director for policy at the university's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology. Nanotech is a branch of engineering that involves building things at the scale of individual atoms and molecules, such as tiny machines or catalysts for the oil industry. Kulinowski reads policy reports and science journals for work, so she opts for fiction in her off-hours. She learned about Salman Rushdie after Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei condemned Rushdie's 1989 novel "The Satanic Verses." After finishing the story of two Indian actors who survive an airplane explosion, she decided to try Rushdie's other books. Her favorite is "Midnight's Children" about infants switched at birth during the great partition of India and Pakistan. Kulinowski loves Rushdie's magical realist writing.

Ms. KRISTEN KULINOWSKI (Rice University): And he applies that style when dealing with some very serious subjects like the breakup of the country and the violence that ensued and so forth. So I think it was that contrast between the whimsy of the writing style with the very serious content that he was writing about that I found really interesting.

KAST: Kulinowski also enjoys the way that David Foster Wallace employs fanciful language to address weighty topics, especially in his sprawling novel "Infinite Jest." His story of a nefarious filmmaker who founded a tennis academy is also a rumination on addiction in pop culture.

Ms. KULINOWSKI: The title comes from a concept that this filmmaker has made a film that is so engaging and so entertaining that it holds the people watching it hostage to the point where they will--like rats pressing a cocaine lever, a lever to get cocaine. They will continue to watch this over and over and over again in order to keep getting that fix. So it's kind of a commentary on the role that entertainment plays in our culture and how enslaved we can become by it.

KAST: Even on vacation, Kulinowski prefers novels that she says leave a dent in her lap. On recent trips, she packed books that are more than 700 pages long, including "Mason & Dixon," Thomas Pynchon's reinterpretation of the relationship between English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, and "The Baroque Cycle" series by Neal Stephenson about 18th-century scholars in Massachusetts. Kulinowski was enthralled by Don DeLillo's "Underworld," which weighs in at more than 800 pages.

Ms. KULINOWSKI: "Underworld" is a little bit about garbage, in a sense, what happens beneath the layers of our society. There's a lot more going on in the book and I haven't read it in quite a while, but if I had to capture it, it would be that there is this world beneath that which we perceive directly that sometimes we don't really want to confront.

KAST: Kristen Kulinowski is executive director for policy at Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology.

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