The Case for Chuck Klosterman

Thanks to an episode of Peter Kafka’s Recode Media, I’ve just now dis­cov­ered that for­mer New York Times Mag­a­zine Ethi­cist, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and long­time men’s inter­est media-affil­i­at­ed sports and music colum­nist Chuck Kloster­man pro­nounces his sur­name kloa-ster-men instead of klaw-ster-men as I have been, shame­ful­ly – even with­in earshot of oth­er human beings on a hand­ful of occa­sions. I am will­ing to sub­mit myself for pun­ish­ment for these trans­gres­sions under the sin­gle con­di­tion that I be allowed to call him Cuck Klus­ter­fuck the next time he ends a spo­ken sen­tence with “or what­ev­er” in an inter­view – an unfor­tu­nate habit he’s main­tained for years. If my own byline had any pedi­gree in the world of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, I would now col­lect his penance sim­ply by includ­ing those hate­ful, 90s ston­er-kid buzz­words in every quote, unedit­ed, but it most cer­tain­ly does not. I’ve searched mod­er­ate­ly hard for any rea­son to both­er con­tribut­ing any crit­i­cism of books or their authors and returned with very lit­tle. I’ve read The Broom of the Sys­tem and White Girls this year, yes, but I’d have to be a Fuck Boy to write any­thing about David Fos­ter Wal­lace, and Hilton Als’ ele­gant, genre-bust­ing mas­ter­piece is so far beyond both my soci­etal rights and per­cep­tive capac­i­ty that I wouldn’t dare utter a sin­gle edi­to­ri­al­ized peep about it – aside from a log line-length rec­om­men­da­tion – even under imme­di­ate threat of cer­tain death.

Giv­en my recent vol­un­tary relo­ca­tion to Port­land, Ore­gon and the word-y pur­suits on which I choose to spend all of my mon­ey and ener­gy, I should adore every­thing about Chuck Kloster­man and in turn he should be com­plete­ly invis­i­ble across the under-30 demo­graph­ic, yet I’ve found a spe­cial orig­i­nal­i­ty in his voice since first explor­ing it and I think it might be worth requal­i­fi­ca­tion. A good friend of mine once dug his first nov­el Down­town Owl out of a bulk box of bar­gain books she’d bought as a pre­teen, long ago and became an enthu­si­as­tic fan of his per­spec­tive and a harsh, but fond crit­ic of his per­sona. It was her copy of his sec­ond that I read first: The Vis­i­ble Man – ulti­mate­ly a sur­pris­ing­ly-orig­i­nal take on the psy­chol­o­gist of a gift­ed out­cast tale that clas­si­cal­ly exem­pli­fies the easy-to-digest yet thought­ful­ly-explorato­ry rep­u­ta­tion of his craft. Thanks to her library card, I was able to fol­low it up imme­di­ate­ly with Chuck’s lat­est, most top­i­cal work – an anthol­o­gy of past essays writ­ten for pub­li­ca­tions like The Guardian, Grant­land, and GQ enti­tled X: A High­ly Spe­cif­ic, Defi­ant­ly Incom­plete His­to­ry of the Ear­ly 21st Cen­tu­ry, which proved an impos­si­bly enter­tain­ing, even more pol­ished exe­cu­tion of The Quaint Chuck’s Expla­na­tions in non-fic­tion form, begin­ning at onset with refresh­ing brevi­ty in its intro­duc­tion.

I’m not ful­ly accred­it­ed by either side of the pro­fes­sion­al equa­tion (sports­writ­ers think I’m too pre­ten­tious and music writ­ers don’t think I’m pre­ten­tious enough,) but I’m able to write about what­ev­er I want, as long as it actu­al­ly hap­pened.”

Using “pre­ten­tious” even when just vague­ly and loose­ly express­ing oth­er read­ers’ thoughts about your work is the first of many minus­cule tech­ni­cal infrac­tions against con­ven­tion laid down in X’s arrange­ment which proves to act toward the ben­e­fit of its expe­ri­ence. If you sub­sti­tute car nerds for sports­writ­ers, I’d per­son­al­ly iden­ti­fy with this picoau­to­bi­og­ra­phy in a big way, but more impor­tant­ly as a read­er I had nev­er encoun­tered any­thing writ­ten about sports which I would describe as pre­ten­tious, per se, and that real­iza­tion could very well have birthed enough curios­i­ty to land the sale, had I been skim­ming in a book­shop, which I would’ve even­tu­al­ly been pleased with.

Now, dur­ing what we should hope to be the first dawn of a new microera of sin­cer­i­ty, we must rec­og­nize how valu­able it is for Kloster­man as an observ­er to be com­fort­ably engaged with his sub­jects, emo­tion­al­ly, and con­fi­dent in the val­ue of his com­men­tary in mid­dleage with­out the need to insist upon his eccen­tric­i­ty, as so many cringey, cul­tur­al­ly-daft Dads do, these days. He uses key­words in his writ­ing and spo­ken pub­lic­i­ty that should dis­miss him imme­di­ate­ly as one of these – a nos­tal­gic, out-of-time dork – but are instead some­how mag­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ed to serve him in artic­u­lat­ing rea­son­able, even pro­found­ly-inno­v­a­tive insight. As I have explored his bib­li­og­ra­phy and his pub­licly-expressed thoughts, I have been caught up and hinged on a sin­gle sup­po­si­tion: Chuck Kloster­man is the only white, 46-year-old beard­ed Port­land Dad you should be read­ing. Do mind that I am in no way exempt from this lens, but it’s still my job to deter­mine his via­bil­i­ty as an intel­lec­tu­al – a “thought leader,” even – for those of us who were con­ceived around the same time he was wrap­ping up his col­le­giate sen­tence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Dako­ta.

For a sol­id hunk of the Amer­i­can read­ing audi­ence, a quick, ele­men­tal vec­tor of qual­i­ty and mas­tery we look for in an essay­ist is the abil­i­ty to “tran­scend” their sub­ject mat­ter for even the most pre­sump­tu­ous and con­ceit­ed among us, usu­al­ly to deliv­er a more abstract sen­ti­ment to leave with. Here, Klosterman’s sig­nif­i­cant career expe­ri­ence is irrefutably evi­dent – in X, he achieves this tran­scen­dence organ­i­cal­ly with a flu­id­i­ty unlike any­thing I’ve read before. We can already check a sin­gle box: con­vinc­ing even a young pro­fes­sion­al twen­ty-some­thing to shell out for a phys­i­cal hard­back of con­tem­po­rary non-fic­tion requir­ing any sort of aca­d­e­m­ic effort to con­sume is going to be nigh-impos­si­ble, even though X actu­al­ly hap­pens to be the best-look­ing spec­i­men of print prod­uct design I have ever han­dled across cov­er, type, and lay­out. It’s been dif­fi­cult hav­ing to con­vince myself to give this copy back.

In the inter­est of full dis­clo­sure, I must take spe­cial care to empha­size just how high­ly I regard Peter Kaf­ka as edi­tor and inter­view­er extra­or­di­naire with­in the Media beat – well-proven to be capa­ble of hit­ting con­sis­tent­ly hard on both nov­el and old guard indus­try per­son­al­i­ties with refined, seem­ing­ly unim­peach­able stone-faced skep­ti­cism. How­ev­er, this Chuck Kloster­man inter­view for Recode Media is an unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly dis­armed dis­play of seri­ous admi­ra­tion: he intro­duces X with an out­right con­fes­sion: “It’s great. I bought it. I bought a signed copy,” which is an unex­pect­ed odd­i­ty (though not an unwel­come one – I’m glad Peter enjoys his life.) Their con­ver­sa­tion dips briefly in per­son­al his­to­ry (Chuck and his wife moved to Port­land from Brook­lyn for its prox­im­i­ty to fam­i­ly) before plop­ping down upon the sub­stance of his clear­ly superb and mat­ter-of-fact inter­view tech­nique. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a con­ver­sa­tion between Kaf­ka and any pre­vi­ous guests with whom he was quite so obvi­ous­ly alike in gen­er­al dis­po­si­tion.

The only rea­son I’m able to ask you these ques­tions is because I’m a reporter and I can ask you ques­tions now that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t feel com­fort­able ask­ing you if we were friends, so I’m not going to pre­tend that we are and I’m not going to cre­ate some fake thing where we’re going to have a rela­tion­ship beyond this con­ver­sa­tion. I’m just going to ask you the things I want to know about and I hope that you respect the fact that I’m just being straight with you. I find that that works much bet­ter.”

From the broad­est pos­si­ble pop cul­tur­al lens, Chuck’s most spec­tac­u­lar and wide­ly-cir­cu­lat­ed work, demo­graph­i­cal­ly (I assume) is his 2015 inter­view and cov­er sto­ry for GQ with Tay­lor Swift – then “the most pop­u­lar human alive.” Yes, it real­ly is worth dwelling on the image: this guy… this very Dorky Dad, just hang­ing out with the most high­ly-demand­ed teen idol who’s ever lived, sit­ting awk­ward­ly next to her in the back­seat of her car as she mani­a­cal­ly pan­ics to accept a call from Justin Tim­ber­lake. When one Chucks such a dis­tin­guished con­trast upon such a high-pro­file con­tem­po­rary medi­um, the weight of the poten­tial scruti­ny becomes pal­pa­ble, but Kloster­man antic­i­pates and braces for this (very risky) busi­ness in the only man­ner he can: acknowl­edg­ing it over and over and over again in the sec­ond para­graph of his every inter­view appear­ance.

It doesn’t mat­ter if it was com­pli­men­ta­ry or insult­ing nec­es­sar­i­ly. It would seem as though I wasn’t tak­ing her seri­ous­ly as a musi­cal artist, and the idea is that I do. That’s why I’m writ­ing about her is because I do think she’s a mean­ing­ful, sig­nif­i­cant artist. It’s not worth the risk of hav­ing the sto­ry then get shift­ed by oth­er peo­ple who per­haps just per­ceive them­selves as some­body who’s a watch­dog for cer­tain sig­ni­fiers or cer­tain ele­ments of the cul­ture and that their job is to be on the watch for this. If your sto­ry then gets moved into that silo, that’s all it’s going to be remem­bered for… It’s a touch­i­er thing now. It’s a more dan­ger­ous thing.”

In the print itself, the cov­er sto­ry is pref­aced by a very short but uncom­fort­ably-telling com­plaint about chang­ing expec­ta­tions for cul­ture writ­ers. One might rea­son­ably sug­gest that Kloster­man regards the prac­tice of call­ing out or remark­ing on “creepy misog­y­ny” as “dumb” – noth­ing but the byprod­uct of chang­ing “times.”

Some­thing you may notice in the fol­low­ing 2015 fea­ture on Tay­lor Swift is that I nev­er describe what she looks like or how she was dressed, even though I almost always do that with any celebri­ty I cov­er… If I did, it would be reframed as creepy misog­y­ny and proof that I didn’t take the woman seri­ous­ly as an artist. It would derail every­thing else about the sto­ry. It would become the sto­ry.”

But… is it? Note how des­per­ate­ly close his lan­guage comes to the com­mon white guy whin­ing about fem­i­nism clas­si­fi­ca­tion with­out actu­al­ly fit­ting the bill. Right…? It doesn’t? Sure­ly, it must be cer­ti­fied Awake through some com­bi­na­tion of key­words or for­mat I’m unfa­mil­iar with or unable to visu­al­ly reg­is­ter because Klosterman’s ass would have long been grass, oth­er­wise. These 224 words are X’s most con­tentious, which you could call impres­sive, all things con­sid­ered – he appears to care enough about his pub­lic image to curate it some­what dili­gent­ly. When a moth­er­hood blog­ger pub­lished an open let­ter in 2013 cit­ing three very ableist uses of the R-word in his work, it only took him two days to respond: “I was wrong. You are right.”

More than any oth­er writer of his demo­graph­ic, Chuck Kloster­man has a close, wary rela­tion­ship with the ever­chang­ing con­tex­tu­al bound­aries of pub­lic expres­sion. He knows when to be trans­par­ent with his feel­ings on pro­gres­sion, and he’s care­ful to avoid what could be “prob­lem­at­ic” for the sake of func­tion­ing bet­ter as a writer (I assume.) For Slate’s I Have to Ask pod­cast, he man­aged to speak exten­sive­ly about these mech­a­nisms for near­ly an hour with­out bel­low­ing any­thing defin­i­tive­ly cringey.

I can’t say it’s bet­ter or worse. It’s just dif­fer­ent, and because it’s dif­fer­ent, it makes me feel uncom­fort­able, but there’s actu­al­ly like an adver­sar­i­al rela­tion­ship with the his­to­ry of any­thing, and that some­how that his­to­ry is seen as oppres­sive. And you shouldn’t even know about it. It’s bet­ter to live in now.”

A quick jaunt from pret­ty hor­ren­dous to almost-ide­al, then. If we are to place our faith in Chuck as our last beard­ed cham­pi­on, we must hope that last sen­tence is sin­cere­ly intend­ed to be his lens to the chang­ing world. Grant­ed – even if it is the truth – it’s not as if per­sis­tent acknowl­edge­ment of one’s posi­tion can mirac­u­lous­ly wash away any sys­tem­at­ic patri­ar­chal dynam­ics involved in author­ing (or read­ing, for that mat­ter) a high-pro­file fea­ture of a young woman on cov­er of a mag­a­zine which explic­it­ly seeks most to speak to “all sides of the male equa­tion,” (are you sure about that, Condé Nast?) espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing how unlike­ly it would’ve been for me to read any­thing about Tay­lor Swift out­side of this very white man’s anthol­o­gy. Fun­da­men­tal themes of pow­er and con­trol are thread­ed through­out both his fic­tion and non-fic­tion, which is espe­cial­ly preva­lent in the Macho Big Boy cul­tures of the ath­let­ics and music indus­tries. In pro­fil­ing Tay­lor Swift – the undis­put­ed apex of the lat­ter in 2015 – Kloster­man pro­vid­ed a first­hand account of the gru­el­ing main­te­nance of a pub­lic and pri­vate per­son­al­i­ty under tremen­dous strain from said fac­tors as they were mag­ni­fied to the max by the most extreme celebri­ty.

Here we see Swift’s cir­cuitous dilem­ma: Any attempt to appear less cal­cu­lat­ing scans as even more cal­cu­lat­ed. Because Swift’s pro­fes­sion­al career has unspooled with such pre­ci­sion, it’s assumed that her social life is no less pre­med­i­tat­ed.”

I’m right there with Chuck: I’ve even found a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar in Pow­er and Con­trol rela­tion­ships sup­port­ing my own fic­tion exper­i­ments: how we attain them, how we lose them, and how best to make use of them – all of which had appar­ent­ly been quite prob­lem­at­ic for Tay­lor Swift for most of her adult life, though we wouldn’t be allowed to real­ly com­pre­hend how deep her inner tur­moil had drilled until it over­whelmed even her expert­ly-designed self-con­trol four years lat­er, boil­ing over entire­ly with such unex­pect­ed vio­lence that all of America’s pseudorur­al glam-pop-coun­try-glossy-chode-hip­sters let out a simul­ta­ne­ous, dan­ger­ous­ly-alarmed holler of OH FOR PETE’S SAKE that was actu­al­ly heard and record­ed from the over­fly­ing orbit of the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion.

It’s some­how dif­fer­ent when the hub of the wheel is Swift. Peo­ple get skep­ti­cal. Her famous friends are mar­gin­al­ized as acqui­si­tions, select­ed to occu­py spe­cif­ic roles, almost like mem­bers of the Jus­tice League (‘the ecto­morph mod­el,’ ‘the inven­tive indie artist,’ ‘the informed third-wave fem­i­nist,’ etc.). Such per­cep­tions per­plex Swift, who is gen­uine­ly obsessed with these attach­ments.”

No, it’s not only worth­while as an exer­cise in superbly ath­let­ic self-aware­ness – the Tay­lor pro­file is pro­found. I’d rec­om­mend read­ing and trea­sur­ing it with or with­out the rest of the anthol­o­gy because bizarre inter­sec­tions like these are rare to come by from any­body else. Short, sharp, and occa­sion­al­ly some­what pet­ty notions are what Chuck Kloster­man does best and most orig­i­nal­ly. Thanks to a digres­sion of Kafka’s begin­ning with “you and I are about the same age…,” he arrives (by way of REM, believe it or not) at a sig­nif­i­cant state­ment about youth and iden­ti­ty.

It seems strange to me to be into music for its cool­ness out­side of high school. That seems like that’s the only time when you’re a young per­son and you’re using art basi­cal­ly to cre­ate a per­son­al­i­ty because you don’t have a real per­son­al­i­ty yet.”

Kloster­man is debat­ably exempt from the tra­di­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic abstract of “objec­tiv­i­ty” for the vast major­i­ty of his notable work because of its stat­ed pri­ma­ry sub­ject: his “inte­ri­or life.” Per­haps the suc­cess of his voice could be at least par­tial­ly attrib­uted to his devel­op­ment of an exis­ten­tial mus­cle – a per­spec­tive unique enough to enter­tain, yet no less rec­og­niz­ably Mid­west­ern with which he’s been able to reflect par­tic­u­lar­ly clear­ly on the pro­fes­sion in tan­dem with the expe­ri­ence he’s accu­mu­lat­ed over the course of his career.

You know, when you’re young, you’re a real emo­tion­al writer if you’re a writer… If I was a young per­son now, I would be incred­i­bly attract­ed to the idea that when you’re 22 you can be a nation­al writer, which was impos­si­ble when I was 22.”

In a way, Kloster­man does sur­mise that it was indeed its objec­tiv­i­ty that media lost, and that writ­ing is no longer a “one-way rela­tion­ship,” but a sort of ridicu­lous dance in which “many peo­ple feel the rea­son they’re con­sum­ing media is to respond to it… that it’s not for the con­tent.” I would remind old Chuck that there are very few func­tion­ing adults out­side of acad­e­mia or retire­ment in the Unit­ed States who spend much of their time read­ing any­thing sole­ly for the sake of absorp­tion, and the dis­par­i­ty between those who were and weren’t was expo­nen­tial­ly greater in the past. The sto­ry of Amer­i­can media is defined by its cycles of wan­ing and wax­ing democ­ra­ti­za­tion, but many of the more tra­di­tion­al avenues in the busi­ness have bet on the “two-way rela­tion­ship” to keep them rel­e­vant.

My own favorite chap­ter of the col­lec­tion is a 2500-word per­son­al essay con­struct­ed for Grant­land to answer a sin­gle incon­gruity: “Why is watch­ing a pre­re­cord­ed sport­ing event less plea­sur­able than watch­ing the same game live?” Some form of this ques­tion has at least mild­ly trou­bled every Amer­i­can since the 1960s, includ­ing myself, and Kloster­man man­ages to pro­vide an enter­tain­ing and con­cise analy­sis of this plight through his own wis­dom. In its short pref­ace in the vol­ume – which was writ­ten “in 2008, in Europe, when [Chuck] was pre­tend depressed” is the sto­ry of his encounter with a house-paint­ing stranger, to whom he explains the meter for suc­cess in his opin­ion-man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­fes­sion, as he sees it: “If a large num­ber of strangers seem to think one of my opin­ions is espe­cial­ly true or wild­ly wrong, there is some­how a per­cep­tion that I am suc­ceed­ing at this voca­tion.”

Last week­end I was in a hashish bar in Ams­ter­dam. It was post-dusk, pre-night. The music was ter­ri­ble (fake reg­gae, late-peri­od Eric Clap­ton, Sub­lime deep cuts.) I was sit­ting next to a British stranger with a shaved head and a speech imped­i­ment. Our con­ver­sa­tion required sub­ti­tles, so I imag­ined them in my mind. He told me he had lost three fam­i­ly mem­bers with­in the past year: his moth­er, who was six­ty-six; his uncle, who was fifty-six; and his sis­ter, who was forty-six. He said he’d just turned thir­ty-six. He asked if I saw a pat­tern devel­op­ing. “Yes,” I said. “But only numer­i­cal­ly.“

I asked what he did for a liv­ing. He said he was a house­painter. He asked me the same ques­tion about myself. “I man­u­fac­ture opin­ions,” I said.

“Real­ly?” he asked. “How do you know if you’re any good at that?”

“By the num­ber of peo­ple who agree or dis­agree,” I said in response. “If a large num­ber of strangers seem to think one of my opin­ions is espe­cial­ly true or wild­ly wrong, there is some­how a per­cep­tion that I am suc­ceed­ing at this voca­tion.”

“That’s inter­est­ing,” said the bald British man who could bare­ly speak. “I guess house paint­ing is a total­ly dif­fer­ent thing.”

Rarely are sit­u­a­tions or dis­cus­sions that begin with back in my day actu­al­ly con­struc­tive in any sense, but Chuck Kloster­man appears to be the excep­tion. If you’re will­ing to indulge him, you may find your­self reas­sured. He now writes from a remote cab­in (with WiFi,) was tor­tured – like all of us – in sift­ing through and com­pil­ing his old work for X, and finds its index to be his favorite part.

Explor­ing the index from a book you cre­at­ed is like hav­ing some­one split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the con­tents of your brain.”

He is will­ful­ly and com­plete­ly igno­rant of the Har­ry Pot­ter fran­chise, yet able to sin­cere­ly wit­ness and con­vey the nuances of back-to-back Creed and Nick­el­back con­certs in a con­fi­dent, fas­ci­nat­ing tech­nique of which any oth­er music or cul­ture writer would deprive you. He is “almost embar­rassed” by his emo­tion­al attach­ment to the Char­lie Brown peanuts. (See: Chuck Kloster­man on Char­lie Brown.)

I haven’t watched A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas in at least twen­ty-five years, sole­ly because I can’t emo­tion­al­ly rec­on­cile the final scene.”

You’ll notice that his entire answer to the live tele­vi­sion deba­cle is – again – entire­ly about con­trol (or the lack there­of.) In fact, his rela­tion­ship with and desire for con­trol also con­tributed to his choice of pro­fes­sion.

Part of the rea­son I became a writer is because it was this com­plete­ly con­trolled real­i­ty where I could do this thing by myself where you’d go out and you’d do the inter­views and stuff, but then you’re back by your­self, tran­scrib­ing and then writ­ing. Then, when the sto­ry is done and you send it off, that’s the end. Now that’s the mid­dle. Now it’s like, when the sto­ry is pub­lished, it’s the mid­dle of the process very often because the con­sumer feels dif­fer­ent­ly now.”

While Klosterman’s voice is pleas­ant to some­one like me, nei­ther it nor him­self nec­es­sar­i­ly belong to The Peo­ple. In his X review for Paste Mag­a­zine, B. David Zar­ley pro­claims essays to be “a love let­ter to a moment,” con­clud­ing that Chuck is “’effec­tive­ly nar­cis­sis­tic,’ prov­ing that cul­ture essays can teach us some­thing about our­selves and the peo­ple around us.” For The Wash­ing­ton Post, Justin Wm. Moy­er notes “it’s hard to think of anoth­er writer who could make a 30-page, deeply report­ed essay about a North Dako­ta junior-col­lege bas­ket­ball game inter­est­ing,” sug­gest­ing that this new col­lec­tion marks Klosterman’s ascen­dance from crit­ic to philoso­pher. From what I’ve read to date, I would counter that he has always ful­filled the term to the extent of its use­ful­ness in the 21st cen­tu­ry and is even now begin­ning to rede­fine it. Last Jan­u­ary, he braved the “dystopic” Google Gates to speak crit­i­cal­ly for a crowd of Googlers, describ­ing them as “an umbrel­la over the entire cul­ture,” and urg­ing cau­tion and reflec­tion in the com­ing future to keep them from doing “some­thing bad.” His engage­ment with them – espe­cial­ly dur­ing the Q&A – is a fas­ci­nat­ing insight into the Greater Google Mind, and I would encour­age any invest­ed par­ties in Chuck Klosterman’s role as a philoso­pher to watch the talk in full. I was unfa­mil­iar with “the boat-sails-wind anal­o­gy” before I read James Murphy’s inter­view for LCD Soundsystem’s “last album.”

Your life is a boat, the sails are your emo­tions, and drugs are the wind. When you’re a kid, your boat is small and your sail is huge, and drugs are like a hur­ri­cane.”

Con­trol x Time = the Kloster­man beat. I sup­pose this must be what oth­er enter­tain­ment writ­ers are refer­ring to when they accuse Chuck of nos­tal­gia traf­fick­ing, but I can’t be so sure. Though I’d like to think my own snout for the stuff is espe­cial­ly well-tuned, I am unde­ni­ably from a dif­fer­ent plan­et – even audi­to­ri­ly. All but one or two of the musi­cians inter­viewed through­out X were entire­ly unknown to me by name, which Klosterman’s voice man­aged to make even more com­pelling – not to men­tion the includ­ed sto­ries of ath­letes and the sports indus­try, which include sto­ries of the human ego, para­noia, and com­plex dra­ma that always man­age to tran­scend their set­ting when artic­u­lat­ed with such dex­ter­i­ty.

I’ve nev­er before writ­ten a book review of any sort – nor am I defen­si­bly qual­i­fied to com­pare cul­ture writ­ers – but with good ole’ Chuck, I dove much fur­ther in order to tack­le one very impor­tant ques­tion: should Kloster­man be rec­om­mend­ed read­ing for any­one under 30 above or along­side best­sellers like George Saun­ders or ground­break­ing essay­ists of col­or like Hilton Als? In many a case, I must con­clude by say­ing, sim­ply, that some­thing of val­ue would be for­gone if we shunned Chuck, even if his insight is old news to all but the most rudi­men­ta­ry yokels. I have lit­tle to offer women or peo­ple of col­or, but I’d bet X would prove itself worth a library trip for any idiot white guys in their lives who may be falling far behind. I don’t know of any oth­er voic­es who are in a bet­ter posi­tion to intro­duce these issues, nor any who are quite so prac­ticed at han­dling them del­i­cate­ly. While Jen­na Wortham-lev­el read­ers will gain lit­tle to noth­ing from this exam­i­na­tion or the ecol­o­gy of its sub­ject (and will like­ly find them­selves paus­ing momen­tar­i­ly for a deserved jest before mov­ing on and return­ing to their high-lev­el plane of com­plex neolib­er­al com­men­tary,) but most of their less-aWok­en fathers should find in Chuck a man they can tru­ly trust, who man­ages to con­sis­tent­ly dis­till and artic­u­late the need-to-knows of the most com­plex pop cul­ture and pop sci­ence con­ver­sa­tions with­out using any of the aca­d­e­m­ic lan­guage found in most insti­tu­tion­al dis­course which dad­dy finds too con­de­scend­ing and super­flu­ous to bear. Those read­ers who’ve absolute­ly fuck­ing despised my voice so far in this essay should give Kloster­man a go – I take as much time as I can muster to fid­dle with and sea­son the words in con­text like this work because I basi­cal­ly enjoy the bull­shit, yet I’ve found both X and But What If We’re Wrong? remark­ably refresh­ing and impres­sive exer­cis­es.

[These are] the cul­tur­al con­di­tions in which I was raised under and which I pur­sued jour­nal­ism under. That was part of the thing that drew me to the idea of being a reporter was I was like, this is some­thing I can do, I think. My abil­i­ty to detach my per­son­al emo­tions from what I am inves­ti­gat­ing, while not per­fect, I can do this. And now it turns out that the oppo­site is what’s desir­able. I think it’s real­ly going to change the kind of per­son who goes into media going for­ward.”

Read­ing Chuck Kloster­man is going to be per­turb­ing, but true sin­cer­i­ty is almost always uncom­fort­able. Com­pre­hen­sive­ly, his non­fic­tion rep­re­sents per­haps the most impor­tant pos­si­ble behav­ior to encour­age from both the crit­ic and his read­er­ship because it incu­bates and exudes sin­cere curios­i­ty and a gen­uine inter­est in learn­ing to lis­ten. From the per­spec­tive of quan­ti­fied soci­etal con­tri­bu­tion, I’d argue that Klosterman’s craft is a sig­nif­i­cant­ly more hon­or­able and worth­while pur­suit than greater aca­d­e­m­ic lit­er­a­ture in its unique and enter­tain­ing treat­ment of sub­jects the estab­lish­ment tends to pul­ver­ize into minu­tia. Unless he’s broke and/or book­ish, buy X as a gift for your Dad and have a go when he’s done. If noth­ing else, at least read the Tay­lor Swift inter­view, okay? If he doesn’t enjoy the book, I’m always avail­able if one or both of you need to blow off some steam: give me a call at (573) 823‑4380. (Nor­mal text mes­sag­ing / talk­time rates will apply.)

Further Reading