When I say that I want Chuck Klosterman’s career, I am not kidding. The guy grows up in rural North Dakota, writes a book about said childhood in the Midwest (with some heavy metal commentary interspersed), wins a few awards, and writes for Spin. Now he gets to write books about whatever strikes his fancy. I’m sure the road wasn’t quite that smooth, and sure, plenty of people seem to hate his guts. But you know, that general career arc sounds pretty good to me.
Eating the Dinosaur is Klosterman’s fifth non-fiction book (he released a quite-good novel, Downtown Owl, last year), and his first containing entirely unpublished material since 2005’s Killing Yourself to Live. And while Killing Yourself to Live was more of a road journal/memoir of Klosterman’s trip across America in search famous musicians’ death sites, Eating the Dinosaur is essay-based, and returns to the winning formula of 2003’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He covers everything from time travel to the Unabomber, all with his signature sarcasm and “post-modernist” slant.
If you like Chuck Klosterman, I can’t see Eating the Dinosaur as being much of a disappointment. He discusses more of the “low culture” topics that can be found in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, but I also found that he takes it a step further and considers why he likes to discuss such things. He’s always been a self-conscious writer (sometimes painfully so), but in the book’s final two essays in particular, “T is for True” (which discusses authenticity vs. irony) and “FAIL” (which, in part, examines modern technology), he seems very wrapped up in the emotional disconnect in modern culture. “My existence is constructed, and it’s constructed through the surrogate activity of mainstream popular culture,” he writes. “Instead of confronting reality and embracing the Experience of Being Alive, I will sit here and read about Animal Collective over the Internet…Reading about Animal Collective has replaced being alive.” This passage will make some people roll their eyes, but I think it’s some of the most accurate criticism of our modern culture that I’ve ever read. And that’s the genius of Chuck Klosterman. He takes common feelings and opinions, spells them out in purposely obvious ways, and makes it feel like a revolutionary statement.
But a few of Klosterman’s topics feel less fresh. “‘Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha.'” maligns sitcom laugh tracks. But is there anyone in the world who actually likes laugh tracks? And “ABBA 1, World 0” offers very few new ideas on the oft-discussed ABBA. But that being said, a good portion of the book’s essays do offer a unique perspective on common topics. “Oh, the Guilt” takes on one of my favourite topics, Kurt Cobain, and compares him with infamous religious fanatic David Koresh. The comparison isn’t totally convincing (which Klosterman admits: “It is unfair to compare Cobain to Koresh. I know that…If you stare long enough at anything, you will start to find similarities.”), but it certainly is interesting. “Through a Glass Blindly” discusses voyeurism, while “It Will Shock You How Much It Never Happened” skewers modern marketing schemes, and these topics fit perfectly into Klosterman’s comfort zone.
My overall feelings on Eating the Dinosaur are a bit conflicted. I feel like “FAIL” and “T is for Truth” are some of Klosterman’s best, most mature work. But I also feel like Klosterman has sacrificed some of his comedic touch in tackling these issues which are “deeper”, but ultimately feel a bit cyclical (he acknowledges that he is the type of person that Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski “hates most”, despite the fact that he is defending some Kaczynski’s ideas). Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing – it might just be a natural evolution of his work. But while there were some typically wry Klosterman quips, I found myself laughing less as I read this book than any of his others.
If you’re not a Klosterman fan, this book is unlikely to change your mind, and if you’re unfamiliar with his work, I would recommend checking out Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and Killing Yourself to Live first. But for those who have been eagerly awaiting his latest book, this is pretty satisfying. Klosterman offers plenty of interesting ideas, and the evolution of his work is evident. At 37, Klosterman seems less certain than ever about the world, and themes of reality, media saturation, and identity run throughout to satisfying effect.