It’s always been extremely difficult for me to write book reviews, which is why I’ve never really done one. I’ve always considered the process of critiquing a work consisting of tens of thousands of words as quite a daunting task, specifically if I want to say something negative. After all, throughout my life I can honestly say that I haven’t really read a whole lot of bad books. And why is that? Am I just constantly picking well-written, entertaining, and informative pieces of literature? Probably not. However, I do have an idea.
In short, my theory is that when it comes to anything artistic; the more time you invest into experiencing it, the higher the probability that you will enjoy it.
For example, things like songs and paintings are at the bottom of the list. We find it quite easy to hear a song for 30 seconds or view a painting with a glance and quickly make the decision as to whether or not we like it. This is why, no matter what your taste, there’s most likely a plethora of songs and/or pieces of art that you just don’t care for.
Hovering in the middle of the spectrums are things like films and plays. We allow these pieces, which typically range from 30 minutes to a couple hours, more time to captivate us. And with this added time comes a higher chance that the film or play will grab your attention and allow you to enjoy it. I’m sure that everyone has certain films that they don’t like, but I’d be willing to bet that the percentage of movies you hate is significantly lower than the percentage of songs you hate.
And then, of course, we have books at the top of the list. Even if it’s a short read, we still invest so much time into a book that often we just can’t allow ourselves to hate it. Because hating it is admitting that all of the time spent reading it was time wasted. And when combining that with the stigma that reading a book is somehow superior to listening to music or seeing a film, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to admit that not all books are great.
It is because of the reasons above that I will not review Chuck Klosterman’s latest book, I Wear the Black Hat. Instead, I will critique his in-store book signing appearance in Milwaukee a few weeks ago.
For those who do not know, Chuck Klosterman is the only author walking the planet that I pay a significant amount of attention to. I’ve read 7 of his 8 books, dozens of articles he’s written for Grantland, and even some of the pieces he’s done as The Ethicist for the NY Times. This recent in-store signing was also not the first time I had seen Mr. Klosterman make an appearance in a Milwaukee bookstore, so I knew what to expect.
His appearances usually begin with a reading from his new book, which usually is only about 15 minutes or so. After that he answers questions (about absolutely anything) for about an hour and a half. Then, a receiving line is formed where everyone can have a few seconds to chat with Mr. Klosterman and get their book signed. I attended the event, did not ask any questions, and of course had an awkward wordless moment with the author as he signed my copy. Everything seemed pretty normal, but then I started reading the book.
I Wear the Black Hat is basically 200 pages of Chuck Klosterman analyzing the concept of villains in modern society, using examples ranging from The Eagles to O.J. Simpson to Andrew Dice Clay. If you’re familiar with any of Klosterman’s other books, there’s really no reason you wouldn’t enjoy this one. But like I said earlier, this is not a book review.
About two days after buying the book, I realized I was already about 75 pages in (which is extremely fast for me). A few days later I was hitting page 150. Everything seemed fine until I hit the one week mark. I had gotten to the last chapter of the book and come to a terrible realization:
The reading that Chuck Klosterman had done in the store was, verbatim, the last chapter of his book in its entirety.
Now I know that I Wear the Black Hat is not a work of fiction. I know there’s not going to be any kind of a Sixth Sense “Holy Fuck” moment. I also realize that the final chapter of the book serves as a good “in summation” type piece that even name drops the book’s title. But come on, man! It’s the last chapter! No matter what the subject matter of any book, I always look forward to reading the last few pages and seeing how the author goes about putting a lid on everything. And I honestly felt, in a small way, that that was taken from me.
So for as entertaining and engaging as Chuck Klosterman was at his appearance to promote I Wear the Black Hat, I must say I was a little retrospectively disappointed.
This was not a book review.