Many people would find the idea of rationalizing the writing of the Unabomber manifesto or comparing Kurt Cobain to the cult leader David Koresh absurd, nevermind reading both these ideas in the same book. However, author Chuck Klosterman is not like other people. He boldly theorizes about both these ideas while spoon-feeding readers his philosophy on all things popular culture. In his sixth book, Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman draws on his previously successful formula, which includes off-beat thinking and witty footnotes to discuss subjects as disparate as time travel, professional football, the irrelevance/relevance of ABBA and why people are disappointed by Weezer.
This collection of lengthy essays follows the release of Klosterman’s less-than-stellar foray into novel writing, Owl City. That novel’s characters — a female teacher, an intellectually challenged student, a football player and an old man — were all written in a voice and thoughts eerily similar to Klosterman’s own. However, this same singularity of voice helps the author’s most successful writing ventures — pop culture essays, which combine introspection with in-depth commentary on music, pop starlets and the world of professional sports.
As a contributor to publications including Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Spin and ESPN, he has skillfully crafted the essay, interview and article into an art form. Two of his bestselling books, Chuck Klosterman IV and Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, contained updated essays previously published on subjects such as Saved by the Bell, porn and Morrissey. In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs he updated his essay “Bending Spoons with Britney Spears,” and manages to brilliantly dissect Spears, predicting some sort of mental breakdown years before she shaved her head and wielded an umbrella as a weapon.
Eating the Dinosaur contains no such previously published essays, instead favouring Klosterman’s own brand of contemporary pop culture philosophy. This means less interesting celebrity profiles and more offbeat and sometimes completely strange thoughts (re: the Unabomber and the truth in his manifesto). He spends more time discussing time travel, advertising, relevance/irrelevance and laugh tracks than he does analyzing the pop cultural artifacts he uses to contextualize these theories. Depending on the form of cultural criticism you enjoy and how accustomed you are to Klosterman’s writing, this may or may not be a good thing.
The book begins by Klosterman saying that in the past five years he has answered more interview questions than asked, and he attempts to discuss why he even answers interview questions at all. This essay is combined with interviews he conducted with Errol Morris, an American documentary filmmaker, and Ira Glass, producer of This American Life. He attempts to figure out why people answer interviews at all, if there is any truth behind how people see themselves and how interviewers portray other people. It all reads as a very circular, self-deprecating series of thoughts.
One of the more interesting essays is on Garth Brooks and his alter ego “Chris Gaines.” Klosterman theorizes about the ultimate failure of “Gaines” as a framework for an interesting discussion of “authenticity” within rock criticism. Klosterman never interviewed Brooks for this essay, as was a staple in much of his earlier writing. In Eating the Dinosaur, the lack of superstar interviews parallels the absence of Klosterman placing himself within the framework of the pop culture subjects he is writing about. In previous books, he sought to find personal meaning within the cultural context he was so absorbed with, but in Eating the Dinosaur this is not the case. For someone who is looking for pure contemporary cultural criticism, this will likely not matter. However, this book can be disappointing to those accustomed to Klosterman’s hallmark superstar subject matter, humorous footnotes and personalization.