It had been a while since I’d read any nonfiction, so when a friend asked if I wanted to read this I said yes. I don’t really know much about Klosterman (except that he’s known for his music/pop culture writing in magazines like Spin and Esquire), but given the titles of his books (like Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) I expected loose, even gonzo essays from this collection. That would have been fun I guess, but I’m so much happier with what I found instead.
Klosterman is a very astute writer. He excels at drawing connections between ideas that do not seem immediately relatable, and explaining his reasoning concisely and with a tinge of humor. In Eating the Dinosaur, for instance, he explores such pairings as Kurt Cobain and David Koresh, Vertigo and voyeurism, the NFL and neo-conservatism, and Ralph Nader and ironical confusion. His comparisons aren’t random, though some may appear more forced than others at first. Klosterman recognizes this and addresses it. In the Cobain/Koresh essay, “Oh, the Guilt,”—in which he is contemplating both men as literal and metaphorical cult leaders (I’m hugely oversimplifying)—he addresses the obvious criticism head-on:
If you stare long enough at anything, you will start to find similarities. The word coincidence exists in order to stop people from seeing meaning where none exists. So, sure, comparing Cobain and Koresh is a little unfair.
Of course not all the essays follow this structure, that would be boring. Others follow a much more straightforward trajectory. “‘Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha.’” is a funny and surprisingly insightful diatribe against the laugh track that explores the effect of canned laughter on how Americans use laughter in social situations. “FAIL” is an honest and somewhat sympathetic look at the Unabomber’s manifesto that picks out points which actually sorta make sense (again I oversimplify). There’s even a pretty darn good essay about ABBA (“All The Kids Are Right”).
My favorite essay in here, though, is probably “It Will Shock You How Much It Never Happened.” Klosterman explores advertising in this piece, how we react to it, and how it reacts to us. In doing so, he ends up writing one of the best encapsulations of social constructivist theory I’ve ever seen. And in the end, that’s what this whole book is about: picking out things from our everyday world that we know about but largely overlook, and exploring them in the context of something bigger, with more gravity and philosophy. It’s a great trick, and perhaps an artistically worthwhile one.
I know next time I come across something by Klosterman, I’m going to stop and read it. I suggest you do the same.