Tony's Reviews > Eating the Dinosaur

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman
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's review
Nov 04, 2009

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in January, 2009

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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