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Book review: Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century, by Chuck Klosterman


If you devoured a lot of pop culture over the last decade, you might wonder what Chuck Klosterman's latest volume, Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century, has to offer. My answer to this: perspective. In this collection of 38 essays culled from his work in publications like Esquire and Grantland, Klosterman analyzes various facets of pop culture ranging from zombies to Miley Cyrus, from Mountain Dew to Lou Reed. He explains, "Consumed in aggregate, this omnibus equates to a short book about music, a short book about sports, and a short book about everything else that could possibly exist." Disconnected as these subjects may seem, they are all filtered through Klosterman's unique voice. He's the anti-critic. He's the guy who goes to both Creed and Nickelback concerts on the same night just to find out why the bands are hated so much.

One of the best essays, titled "Three Man Weave," traces the bizarre story of a "...pair of low-profile junior college basketball teams [who] played a forgotten game on a neutral floor in southeast North Dakota" in 1988. Due to a series of random events, the unfavored team won with only 3 players on the floor. The topic sounds boring--so boring, in fact, that many of the subjects interviewed had forgotten details of the event. But then the same thing happens to the exact same teams in 2016! That is one of Klosterman's gifts as a writer: turning a boring tale into something eyebrow-raising. Perspective.

His other gift: writing 10,000-word essays about KISS and making you like it.

Aside from a few articles on nostalgia and Charlie Brown, the majority of the book is filled with Klosterman's musings on sports or music. His interviews with Jimmy Page, Noel Gallagher, Stephen Malkmus, and Eddie Van Halen are just as excellent as his pieces on Tim Tebow, Kobe Bryant, and Tom Brady.

He takes a turn into "grumpy aging cultural writer" territory in his reflection on Harry Potter as a cultural phenomenon:

"...I find it astounding that the unifying cultural currency for modern teenagers is five-hundred-page literary works about a wizard...Because I don't understand Harry Potter, am I doomed to misunderstand everything else?"

My response to Klosterman: Probably not. Your world view has been shaped by Walter White, Jonathan Franzen, and a love of hair metal, and that is no more or less significant than books about wizards. But if I ever meet you in a bar, I'll get you drunk and we'll figure out your house (I'm guessing Hufflepuff).

What does one do after reading the entirety of a Chuck Klosterman book in one sitting? (Ok, two sittings). Somehow, starting a Noel Gallagher cover band seems equally as appealing as joining a fantasy sports league. I can't help but think this is what Klosterman wants: for the voyeurs of pop culture to realize what they are missing by observing but not truly living it; and for those swimming in the thick of it to see pop culture as the voyeurs do.

I recommend Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century to fans of music, sports, and everything else that could possibly exist. Most importantly, if you did not know that in 2006, Danger Mouse released an illegal Beatles/Jay-Z mashup called The Grey Album (and it's excellent), then you should read this book strictly for educational purposes.

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