Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: Book Review

I'm not sure if I've ever had such a change of heart about a book or author as I did with this one...

Best known as a writer for SPIN, ESPN and other frontline popular culture outlets, Klosterman is an encyclopedia for all sorts of famous and obscure people and events over the past twenty years or so. Much like Bill Simmons of ESPN (with whom Klosterman has a number of connections) he likes to weave disparate thoughts and events into a coherent thread to show the reader what is actually going on beneath the surface of modern culture.

This book is a collection of brief essays examining a number of issues, including the validity of Billy Joel's career, Pamela Anderson as the modern recreation of Marilyn Monroe, an analysis of Saved By the Bell, etc. Some of these are good and some are very, very poor...

Sometimes you feel like Klosterman is merely throwing every pop-culture touchstone up against a wall, Jackson Pollock style in an attempt to see what sticks. What sticks in my mind is a discussion of the 90's film Reality Bites in which he mentions Winona Ryder having "an amazing rack". This is just one example of many of instances where I was left asking myself "Does he actually ever READ what he has just typed?" as I'm sure this is the first and last time anyone ever described Ryder's "rack" or boyish lack-thereof as "amazing".

I was ready to toss this book in my Ebay "to sell" pile by the time I was 1/3 of the way into it but as a gift from my brother-in-law I felt obliged to read the entire work and give an honest assessment.

Shocked, is the only way I can describe my reaction when in the last 1/3 or so of essays contained in this book I came away impressed by Klosterman's candor and objectivity on numerous cultural fronts. Klosterman skewers the Oprahfication of America where no one is ever wrong and are merely "misunderstood", admits to having been (past tense) both anti-abortion and anti-death penalty—now being ambivalent toward each, and professing an admiration for born again Christians, all the while admitting to his own faults regarding women, drink, drugs and a host of modern "sins".

I think that's what impressed me the most about Klosterman—not his knowledge and analysis of pop-culture (which I often found wrong, overstated or just silly) but his ability to look objectively at his own faults, call them out, show examples of others who have NOT made the same choices as he and yet be perfectly comfortable (apparently) in his own skin. He knows he has treated women like crap in the past and that he COULD have been better, and maybe he will be better in the future but you know what? Maybe he won't, and he's OK with that. Klosterman is something the modern world needs more of, an honest voice in a completely dishonest world. And for that reason alone I am glad I read this book.

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