Eating the Dinosaur Paperback – 22 Jul 2010
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About the Author
Chuck Klosterman is the New York Times-bestselling author of seven other books, including The Visible Man; Eating the Dinosaur; and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. His debut book, Fargo Rock City, was a winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. Klosterman is the Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine, and writes regularly about sports and popular culture for Grantland.com. He has also written for GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The A.V. Club, and The Believer.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
- 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."
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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He starts with a very funny and equally revealing essay about why people answer questions during interviews. Just as the reader recognizes that this is not nearly as obvious a matter as it seems on first blush, Klosterman enters into a discussion of the nature of truth and of selfhood. Errol Morris contributes this gem: "I think we're always trying to create a consistent narrative for ourselves. I think truth always takes a backseat to narrative." (This would explain why each of my satellite radio news channels tells me about events in seemingly different worlds.)
Klosterman is less serious but just as interesting in exploring the challenges inherent in time travel. Even it were possible, he argues, the only reason to do so would be to eat a dinosaur.
His dissection of advertising through the medium of Mad Men and Pepsi is subtle and persuasive. He tries to convince us that we understand we are being conned by the ad. However, we reward the message that does the best job of setting the hook because we want to be a part of the process.
His best piece finishes the book and rather courageously tries to resurrect the Unabomber's arguments in Industrial Society for the Future without creating any sympathy for Ted Kaczynski. Klosterman shows how 130,000 years of psychological evolution, in which men observed actual images, have been replaced in one century by mediated experience. The media that the author has made a living writing about has created a new and false reality. "We are latently enslaved by our own ingenuity, and we have unknowingly constructed a simulated world, " concludes the author. "As a species, we have never been less human than we are right now."
Eating the Dinosaur is a lot to swallow. Whether the reader accepts its conclusions or not, however, consumption is both fun and enlightening.
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.
Something Instead of Nothing: Why do people answer questions? For who's sake? What does that say about us? This is far more interesting than it sounds at first and, I think, provides insight into the current human condition. Interviews and answering questions are odder than you would think.
Oh, the Guilt: What do David Koresh and Kurt Cobaine have in common? Really interesting look at what makes self-made cultic leaders and culturally-created messianic figures different. Great examination of the Waco disaster as well - definitely want to read more about it after reading the little bit included here.
Tomorrow Rarely Knows: An essay about why time travel is impossible. Good, but the information is not very original. I had heard most of this before, but interesting none the less.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Ralph Sampson: Society's Reactions to Public Failures. As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan, I was excited to see this essay. Though the premise and the conclusions are valid, this essay on failure and how it is viewed by society ultimately comes up short. The circuitous route that Klosterman takes to get to his point has a few too many curves.
Through a Glass, Blindly: Voyeurism. The most interesting part of this essay were the discussions of the Hitchcock movies Vertigo and Rear Window. An understanding look at why we watch other's lives. The conclusion that Klosterman comes up with here is right on. This, along with the first essay in the book, deftly describes an individual's desire to be recognized and validated.
The Passion of the Garth: Fictional Reality. I am not a big country music fan and barely remember Garth Brooks' attempt to break into the rock world as Chris Gaines. After three slower essays, this one is great fun. The underlying discussion of created personas and how fiction can be truer than reality takes a back seat to the sheer entertainment value of the piece.
The Best Response. This one is just filler really. The one area that fell very short of Klosterman's best work (Sex, Drugs, And Cocoa Puffs, IV) are the filler questions. There really was not anything worthwhile in between the chapters, and though this grouping of questions is a little better then the filler in the rest of the book, its not by much.
Football: Liberal or Conservative? Great. As an avid football fan, one of my favorites in the book. Not much to say about it besides the fact that if you are a football fan, this one is a must read and almost worth the price of the book. This, along with the soccer essay (S,D, & CP, I think) is the best of his sports essays.
ABBA 1, World 0. Not great. Unclear about the point of this one, and I don't particularly care for ABBA's music.
"Ha, Ha," he said. "Ha, Ha." Canned Laughter. Very good. I always hated canned laughter, but now I know why. Your perception of canned laughter, both on television and in everyday conversations, will change after reading this.
It Will Shock You How Much It Never Happened. Advertising. As a Mad Men fan, this one was good. Though confused about the direction he was headed at times, the conclusion results in a great question about the nature of advertising in today's society.
T is For True: Irony and Its Pervasiveness. A look at the lack of literalism in today's society and what that means for us in the future. This one is a must read and will change the way you think about irony and its effects. One of the best in the book.
FAIL: Technology, Good or Bad. Worth reading for a couple of good points, but one of the weakest chapters in the book. Hard to take even one philosophical insight from the Unabomber and point out its value, but Klosterman succeeds (barely.)
Chuck Klosterman has a unique talent to turn discussions about Nirvana, David Koresh, and Mad Men into philosophical treatises worth reading. Even if you disagree with many, or even all, of his conclusions you cannot ignore Klosterman's insight into pop culture and society. He is the best writer of the "educational & entertaining non-fiction" genre, and Eating the Dinosaur is one of his best.
If you're a fan of his previous works, and particularly Sex Drugs Cocoa Puffs, you should check this out. But if you're reading this, you probably already knew that.
*P.S. the page count here says 255 pages, but in actuality, it is 229 pages, plus the index from p. 233 to p.245... so it's shorter than has been listed. I ripped through it yesterday afternoon, and will probably read it a second time come Holiday break.