Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

There's a breed of writer that produces more words than they consume, and Chuck Klosterman is their king. Most of his lesser compatriots are sportswriters, with some other kinds of old-fashioned newspapermen for spice, but Klosterman came in through a different door: he was a professional music critic before leveling up to being a Chuck Klosterman, whatever that means. He's produced six book-length works so far, all of them except last year's Downtown Owl non-fiction, and nearly all of them deeply based in his own life and perceptions of the world.

Eating the Dinosaur appears to have been planned as a whole; there's no sign that any of the baker's dozen essays here appeared anywhere else first. Even then, most writers would try to place the short pieces elsewhere for a quick extra buck -- I'm not sure if that's a statement about Klosterman's integrity (or laziness), of the horrible state of the magazine market, or something less clear. Klosterman has his now-traditional interstitial bumf between the essays -- which, as always, aren't as smart or fascinating as he thinks they are -- composed mostly of Q&As with a vague relation to the essay immediately following.

Klosterman, it must be said, is still a very lazy thinker, and finds himself out of his depth when he even approaches low culture. (He also has the unsettling tendency to seem more and more ignorant and scattered the more the reader knows about his subjects, so it's possible that he's equally as unreliable on basketball and heavy metal.) His work here is mostly in a sophomore bull-session mode, sometimes taking two things with little to do with each other (Nirvana and Waco, Weezer and Werner Herzog) and making them seem parallel, and sometimes just circling around one thing (ABBA, TV laugh tracks, Vertigo, the basketball player Ralph Sampson, Garth Brooks's In the Life of Chris Gaines record) until he exhausts himself.

As always, he's superficially convincing -- up to the point where the reader knows about the pop-culture item in question, at least -- and has that quotable, snappy all-American magazine writer style that's harder not to read than just to go along with. He's not a great writer, but he's an entertaining writer, for as long as his line of patter is tolerable.

I'm tolerating Klosterman less and less, I'm afraid -- I avoided his novel because the fictional part of Chuck Klosterman IV was dull, and I enjoyed the non-fictional parts of that less than the similarly random Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I still have good memories of Klosterman's more unified books -- Fargo Rock City, the story of his teenage years as a hair-metal fan in the ass end of nowhere; and Killing Yourself To Live, a long road trip to the sites of rock-star deaths -- but I'm afraid to re-read them and find that Klosterman was always this self-satisfied and full of kookish ideas.

Klosterman really needs to get out of his apartment and let his weird theories bounce off of other people; he's the kind of oddball who gets too hermetic when left alone for any length of time. He opens the first essay in this book, "Something Instead of Nothing," by writing "For the first twelve years of my adult life, I sustained a professional existence by asking questions to strangers and writing about what they said." He really needs to go back to that, or something like it.

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