Read | Watch | Listen – Chuck Klosterman


klostermanChuck Klosterman is one of the writers I have read the most – by far – in the last year. He is only surpassed by John Grisham, who’s entire catalogue I read last year after becoming incredible overwhelmed at the prospect of never writing anything of importance. The overwhelmed feeling followed a Jonathan Franzen binge. If you have a bad habit of comparing yourselves to others and want to be a fiction writer, don’t read Franzen.

Klosterman is great because he offers a large variety in what he writes. Grisham writes legal thrillers (and then that one book about playing American football in Italy). Klosterman writes essays about all different aspects of pop culture and the social, political and personal ramifications of the influence pop culture has on us as individuals and a society. He also writes incredibly unique fiction.

Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puggs My first exposure to Klosterman, like most, was his book of essays Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. In the book he has some very arbitrary and hilarious conversation starting questions. Here are a few:

You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate’s collarbones with a Crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear–for the rest of your life–sound as if it’s being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it’s being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it’s being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you).
Would you swallow the pill?

 
For reasons that cannot be explained, cats can suddenly read at a twelfth-grade level. They can’t talk and they can’t write, but they can read silently and understand the text. Many cats love this new skill, because they now have something to do all day while they lay around the house; however, a few cats become depressed, because reading forces them to realize the limitations of their existence (not to mention the utter frustration of being unable to express themselves).
This being the case, do you think the average cat would enjoy Garfield, or would cats find this cartoon to be an insulting caricature?

 

At long last, someone invents “the dream VCR.” This machine allows you to tape an entire evening’s worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device of you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you don’t agree to this, you can’t use the dream VCR.
Would you still do this?

I was loaned a copy of the book by Jacob Threadgill, one of the most comically animated people I’ve ever met, and his answers to the questions were scrawled in the margins. For that reason I highly recommend borrowing your first copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.

One of the essays was about modern journalism and the perception that the journalists (specifically at local and regional newspapers) are totally biased and always involved in conspiracy. The line in the book that still sticks out to me and I often use to defend journalists is when Chuck (a former journalist himself) says journalists are not biased, and if a reader suspects the writer is leaning one way over another, the reality is the representatives from the better represented side were the only ones to call the reporter back by deadline.

My most recent exposure to Klosterman’s writing was his most recent book, The Visible Man, which is constructed completely of fictionalized notes written by a fictional counselor to her perspective book publisher. The counselor has been treating a man who has developed a suit that refracts light to allow the untrained eye to see right through him. The man sits in people’s homes and observes them when they are completely alone, giving Klosterman a really odd and unique vehicle to talk about how much our private lives and public personas differ. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read.

I Wear the Black Hat His best work, and hopefully most lasting, has to be I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling with Villains Real and Imagined – a collection of essays focusing on villainy. All of his writing is thoughtful and fun to think about but this collection, in my opinion, makes important and useful observations about how we perceive evil and how, as a society, we often have a double standard in our perceptions. It is also one of the funniest books I’ve read.

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