Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Klosterman’

This Is Not A Book Review

August 7, 2013


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.


Guilty Pleasures

April 27, 2011

In the context of music Chuck Klosterman once wrote that the term “guilty pleasure” drives him insane because it makes people feel bad for liking something they sincerely enjoy and gives the impression that people would be doing more “cultured” things if they just weren’t listening to Snow’s “Informer.”  Klosterman is absolutely correct in his statement, but it won’t prevent me from feeling lame as I belt out every word to “Don’t Stop Believing” while I’m alone in my car.

So, in an effort to rid myself of my own self-imposed embarrassment, here’s a rundown of a few songs I regret opening my wallet for yet will never stop listening to.

10. Europe – The Final Countdown

I actually heard this song once while I was warming up for a basketball game in the sixth grade.  It got our 0-12 team revved up then, and I imagine it still would today.

9.  Joan Osbourne – One Of Us

I bought this CD single at a gas station for a dollar thinking I could annoy the fuck out of a lot people.  Now, fifteen years later, I actually know how to play it.

8.  Real McCoy – Another Night

When you grow up with an older sister who is heavy into cheerleading, you pick up some terrible habits.

7.  Evanescence – Call Me When You’re Sober

One of the greatest things about being married is sometimes the sheer embarrassment of showing what you bought to your spouse is enough to prevent a foolish purchase.  Unfortunately, this album was released before I met my wife.

6.  My Chemical Romance – Teenagers

If I was ten years younger, I’m sure this song would’ve “spoken to me.”  Instead, it became the first time I felt I was too old for a song (if that makes any sense).

5.  Derringer – Real American

Nothing but Hulk Hogan comes to mind when I hear this one.  Perhaps it’s my inner 5-year-old that just won’t let go.

4.  K7 – Zunga Zeng

Although I had an impressive cassette collection back in 1993, this was the first CD I ever bought.  As a result, I will never get sick of it.

3.  TaTu – Not Gonna Get Us

What can I say?  When someone starts talking about young Russian lesbians, I tend to pay attention.

 2.  Eddie Money – Take Me Home Tonight

Any integrity this song might’ve have had is certainly lost as soon as the “Skin-A-Max style” saxophone solo works its way in.  All the same, I’ve been singing along with the chorus for over twenty years.  Why stop now?

1.    Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone

Say what you will.  This is possibly the most perfectly constructed pop song ever.  If anyone wants to start a band and cover this, I’m in.

Whatcha’ Readin’?

July 28, 2009

As it is clearly seen from my writing, I’m really not much of a reader.  Not counting things I was assigned to read throughout my time in high school and college, I’ve really probably only read about 25 books, and most of them were biographies, DIY books, or history/reference collections; certainly no fiction.  There is, in fact, only one author that I regularly read, Chuck Klosterman.  Klosterman typically writes nonfiction stories that revolve around music, film, & anything else associated with pop culture, which is typically right up my alley.  With his last book, though, he decided to write a novel, Downtown Owl, and forced me to read my first work of fiction in almost seven years.

I know what you’re thinking, but this blog is not about how great I thought the book was (though I do think that); this is about the actual process of getting through the book.  You see, the only time I really had to read it was during my 30 minute lunch break at work- so obviously it took me a few weeks to get from cover to cover.  My reading process was simply sitting under the awning in front of my building every Monday-Friday from 12:00-12:30.  It was too hot to sit in my car, too distracting to sit in the lunchroom with everyone else, and under the awning was the only outdoor location within 1 block where you could be shielded from any sun and rain.

So there I sat, smoking a cigarette and buried in a book, soaking in every detail about the novel’s three main characters.  Somewhat to my amazement, I did not identify with the third string high school quarterback going through adolescence and questioning the validity of everything.  Nor did I side with the high school teacher who just moved to a small town (from Wisconsin ironically) and is struggling to fit in.  Nope.  I identified with Horace, the crotchety widowed 73 year old man who immerses himself in resentment and self-loathing (he doesn’t read fiction either).  And it is with that spirit in mind that I present to you the rest of my story of getting through Downtown Owl.

Like I said, I’m outside of work reading this book on my lunch and, of course, everyone else’s lunch period (I can’t say hour because they won’t fucking give us an hour!).  Inevitably, my fellow co-workers would exit the building, ready to hop into their cars to pick up something up from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or anywhere else that would allow them to get their back to work in fifteen minutes, leaving them with less than fifteen minutes to inhale a cheeseburger.  Simply put, these folks are in a hurry, as they should be.  (For some reason, ever since I started working a real job, I’ve never eaten at work.)  Yet what do they do when they exit the building and see me reading while  intentionally making no eye contact with them?  I’ll tell you what they do.  They bend their neck and lean over slightly to see the book’s cover.  Then they ask…

“Whatcha’ Readin?”

First of all, I see these people analyze the cover with their peripherals, so I know they already know the book’s title.  Second of all, these people are on a break where they will spend at least half, if not more, of their time acquiring sustenance, and the other half ingesting it, leaving no time for a real “break,” yet they want me to obviously tell them more about the book than the title without them having to break their stride.  I came up with three ways to respond to this question.  I have tried all of them.   So when faced with said inquiry, I just pick one of these responses arbitrarily.  They’re all a little different, but they all have one thing in common.  They  make me feel like an asshole.

Q:  Whatcha’ readin’?

A:  aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ………… this book called ……..aaaaaaaaaaa ….. Downtown Owl ……. it’s alright.  (This response offers no real information and in no way shape or form attempts to answer the question) 

Q:  Whatcha’ readin’?

A:  It’s called Downtown Owl.  It’s by this guy Chuck Klosterman.  He mainly writes nonfiction stuff, but in this book he…(this is typically where I get caught off by the question asker who attempts a cordial dismissal from the conversation, leaving me to feel like a shit when all I tried to do was answer their damn question.)

Q: Whatcha’ readin’?

A: A book.  (This is easily the most dickheaded way to answer the question, and it took a while before I tried it out.  But I gotta admit it has proven to be the most effective.  Most of my co-workers know me as a pretty nice guy, so when I respond in this way, they walk away chuckling, assuming I’m just joking around.  I assure you I am not.)

Lucky for me, I finished the book today.  I can now return to breaks where I sit in the lunchroom reading a newspaper, praying that no one tries to spark a conversation.  And even if they happen to, I won’t be forced to explain the goings on of a 273 page novel they’re completely unfamiliar with.  Instead, all I have to say is, “Fuckin’ Brewers.”

As Downtown Owl has shown me, I guess I do share a lot in common with a pissed off old man.  As far as a deeper meaning within its pages, I have some theories, but nothing I’m gonna stick to just yet.  I will say, though, that the process of getting through this book has taught me one valuable lesson.  And it’s a lesson that I’m sure I’ll either forget or ignore when the next Klosterman book comes out:

Never read in public.