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3.0 out of 5 stars Klosterman's Weakest Collection - Maybe, 12 Dec 2009
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Eating the Dinosaur (Hardcover)
I've read (and generally enjoyed) all of Klosterman's books (even the novel), so whenever he has a new one, I pick it up right away. I tore through this skimpy one in about two days, and on first read was disappointed to find it to be among the least engaging of his work. I say "first read" because I'm kind of tempted to set it aside to revisit in a year or so. The problem with Klosterman is that he is usually so entertaining that one tends to read him quickly, eager to come across the next clever line or hilarious juxtaposition. But in the case of this book I realize that I may not have wholly engaged with the larger ideas he's writing about. And since many of the essays in this book take on bigger themes than those his previous books, it might be worth a second, slower read.

That caveat established, my initial impression is that this is Klosterman's weakest collection. Yes, is has the trademark humor, clever turns of phrase, and entertaining contrarian pronouncements. But the humor's not as everpresent, more of the pronouncements struck me as definitively wrong, and the level of navel-gazing seems to be ratcheted up. What I mean by that is most of his earlier work felt like the ideas and observations were just gushing out of his head, almost uncontrolled. Here, he seems to be working a great deal harder to figure out just what it is he's trying to say, and what that says about him. On the plus side are essays like "Something Instead of Nothing," a genuine attempt to understand why people answer interview questions. Another good one is "Oh, the Guilt," a rambling but interesting attempt to link the personalities of Kurt Cobain and David Koresh with the concept of authenticity and their resulting fates. I also quite liked the final piece, "Fail," which is a reconsideration of the Unabomber Manifesto and its relevance to our current internet-addicted society. There's a bit about ABBA ("ABBA 1, World 0.") that's quite in line with much of his earlier work and a good analysis of a pop culture phenomenon.

However, many of the essays simply don't work. For example, in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Ralph Sampson" Klosterman attempts to parse how people react to the failures of public figures. I was really curious to see what he had to say about the basketball player who was my favorite player during his college years (Klosterman and I are the same age). But his conclusions are pretty facile and the route he takes to get to them is awfully convoluted and muddled. Similarly, as a lifelong pro football fan, I was curious to see what he has to say in "Football: Liberal or Conservative?" Unfortunately, his conclusion that football is somehow "liberal" because it embraces change is arrived at through some various dubious logical leaps that dont' stand up to anything beyond a cursory examination. His bit on time travel ("Tomorrow Rarely Knows") has nothing new or interesting to say on the topic, ditto for his one on voyeurism ("Through a Glass, Blindly") and the one on laugh tracks. And his bit on modern advertising ("It Will Shock You How Much It Never Happened") just struck me as completely wrong.

My guess is that if you really like Klosterman, you'll pretty much like this collection. If you mostly like him (like me), you'll read this and find some choice nuggets to extract. If you don't like him, this book won't change your opinion one iota. And if you've never heard of him, start with one of his earlier books, like Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Eating the Dinosaur, 4 Feb 2012
Dave Gilmour's cat (on Dave Gilmour's boat) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Eating the Dinosaur (Paperback)
A collection of essays on pop culture. The best deal with:
- the nature of interviews
- similarities between Kurt Cobain and David 'Waco' Koresh
- time travel and why it's impossible
- the ridiculousness of canned laughter on TV sitcoms

Occasionally pieces didn't work for this reader. Without any knowledge of basketball player Ralph Sampson I was not especially interested in what Chuck Klosterman had to say about his career. And some pieces won't be to every reader's taste: Chuck himself suggests that you might prefer to skip the chapter on American football and go straight to the piece about Abba. Although he's a perceptive critic, with a lot to say about popular culture, the pieces don't hang together well. Many of this book's cultural references will date quickly. In 50 years it may baffle most of its readers. Does that matter? I don't know.

One big plus: he's not a culture snob. To quote: "I am open to the possibility that everything has metaphorical merit, and I see no point in sardonically attacking the most predictable failures within any culture."
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3.0 out of 5 stars Only for committed fans., 29 Dec 2009
A. Miles (Al Khor, Qatar) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Eating the Dinosaur (Hardcover)
Generally echoing the previous critic's excellent review, with some additional explanation for those unfamiliar with this writer's work:

What Klostermann does is think very hard about popular culture and his relationship with it, and take you through that thought process in print: Sometimes his insights are original and enlightening, and sometimes they're pretty banal and obvious, and sometimes they're just plain wrong. . The point is the way that he meticulously records this thought process, and relates it to why people have the instinctive tastes they do. It might be obvious to you why Pixies are superior to Motley Crue (or vice versa) but Klostermann wonders about that preference, and endeavors to explain it.

In this collection of recent pieces, I'm afraid the insights end up more on the banal side. a piece on time travel comes across as something a 16 year old SF fan might talk about when he got drunk for the first time. The piece on Kurt Cobain's relationship with commercialism is something that's been done to death over the years: Two pieces on US sports figures obviously lost on a UK reader: Something on the laugh tracks on US sitcoms, the ideas within very familiar: Klosermann approaches all these themes in his own individual way, sure, but his eventual analyses are the same as many other writers.

Not a good one to start with then. Get his earlier collections first
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Eating the Dinosaur
Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (Paperback - 22 July 2010)
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