Are you a big fan of Chuck Klosterman or just enjoying the latest book? I found "Eating the Dinosaur" to be pedestrian at best. It felt like a blog with better editing. Nothing he wrote was particularly insightful (if you follow the news). Then I heard him on a podcast and he was as insufferable as his pictures make him look. The excerpts you've posted have piqued my interest, but I feel I'll be disappointed--again. Do you like like the book, or is just kinda nice in a killing time kinda way?
Long day! Anyways: well, the word “Fan” is loaded. I haven’t read any of his fiction or some of the books where he made his name (Killing Yourself to Live or Fargo Rock City)– there’s probably loads of his non-fiction I haven’t read neither. I don’t have his photo on a body pillow. But there are bits of Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs (the Pamela Anderson bit) or Eating the Dinosaur that I think about, sure, that have lingered with me. From Dinosaur, the lead essay about time travel is the most fun and the one people bring up perhaps, but the ones that have stuck with me is the one about how people secretly love advertising because that’s one where people insist on the opposite opinion so often (e.g. that they “hate advertising”) and I like that kind of contrarianism, and more than anything, his essay about football because not being a football fan and never having thought about it that much before, I now think about that essay every time I see football now. It’s the thing I associate with football, the way I associate David Foster Wallace with county fairs or cruise ships, say.
I’ve seen what people say who hate his stuff– look, he has a schtick, which certainly extends to his prose. If you don’t like his voice, that’s pretty much game over– he’s one of those guys whose voice is very present in what they write. I think of that as being a feature; other people think of it as being a bug. A broad generality gets made about “what people believe” and you’ll sit there and go “uh, people believe that?”. This will happen more than once. Et cetera. (I don’t know how a book of cultural essays doesn’t somehow resemble a blog but… (a) blogs don’t really exist anymore, at least how I think you’re using that term…? (b) I don’t really object to that book format– that’s how I read Foster Wallace; that’s how they sell lots of folks. And none of the essays are especially of the moment– the Garth Brooks essay is about pop culture certainly, but pop culture from 1999…)
But he spells out what he does in Dinosaur – that he hates people who criticize things that are dumb, and sees the excitement of critical writing for him as being explaining why things people think are dumb are secretly more than that. I obviously don’t share his animosity towards people who criticize dumb things, at all, but the latter goal– when someone pulls that off, I think that’s a real little magic act. Klosterman’s got a line– it’s my favorite thing he ever wrote– about how (going by memory so I might have it wrong) “in and of itself, nothing means anything, but nothing is ever in and of itself”. I want to live in that world, all the time.
Somebody who’s trying to get me to see a thing in a new way is always going to be more interesting to me than, like, one of those guys who pop up on the internet now and then to tell you how non-fiction essays should never use the pronoun “I”, and should be about steady judgments that stick to the four corners of a work, or … whatever, whatever silly nonsense I’ve had to accidentally ingest over years of hanging around the wrong mental neighborhoods. I subscribe to the belief that getting a reader to that headspace is a more meaningful goal. There are interviews with Alan Moore– ones where they don’t ask him about Watchmen for the 5 billionth time– where he talks about having the same goal, seeing the connections between everything… David Milch, same… whoever else. (Which isn’t a guarantee that he’ll do that for everybody but… he’s done for me before, and not others… you know: I like the idea of having a toolset of thinking about pop culture that’s more … more lenses than just race or sex which are valuable lenses, to be sure, but … I want more than that, for different reasons– I think that’s the value of that kind of writing– not to learn something you can’t learn from newspapers but just having more lenses or … getting to a mindset or wanting a broader toolset to approach things…?). I mean, I don’t know if I’d recommend podcasts with the guy– but I don’t know that podcasts are how I judge writers…?
Would I recommend the new book? I enjoyed it fine– I don’t know if I follow the distinction the question makes entirely, because I subscribe very whole-heartedly to the Doug Stanhope opinion of books– again just going by memory it was something like “You read a book, and I watched a shitty TV show, but neither of us got our laundry done.” The final chapter’s a little all over the map when it should be building to a climax, and an early chapter on books makes for a slow start since it makes an entirely pedestrian point. But the rest is stuff I enjoy thinking about– how history is going to remember Obama or rock music, say, or there’s a discussion of the Constitution in there I was pretty sympatico with. I don’t know there’s anything in there that are like “well that is going to change how I see ______” but it was all stuff I’m interested in. Or weirdly the most enjoyable chapter for me was again about football where he kind of becomes a little more oriented towards timely topics than he is elsewhere in the book, namely the whole concussion thing. It seems odd to me that I enjoyed that bit the most as someone who … I certainly don’t dislike football, but it’s not particularly “important” to me either…
That book I was reading about bad attention spans was better but I can’t seem to remember where i put it, which sounds awesome as a metaphor but less awesome as a real thing because I wasn’t done with it yet and, you know, feel the edges of some bigger loss when I stumble around my apartment looking for it. But it’ll turn up, maybe…? If you want a book recommendation though, I’m slowly reading that Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities finally, which is probably something everyone else read in college. It’s nothing you can relax with– reading more than a few pages at a time feels wasteful. But yeah– that deserves its reputation, or seems like so far……