If anyone other than Chuck Klosterman had attempted to get Eating the Dinosaur published, they would have failed. This inevitable rejection would not be the fault of the writer, but of two distinct realities that solidify Klosterman’s place in the cultural canon: the continued existence of Chuck Klosterman himself, and of the multitude of people a) who blog for free about whatever they want and b) who blog for money about whatever their editors want. It is because Klosterman doesn’t blog, and because everyone else does, that he got this book published. He established his persona pre-blog and remains that way, possibly making him the only living young writer who maintains that kind of purity.
While reading Eating the Dinosaur, his fifth collection of essays on the meaning of various old and new pop phenomena, it’s impossible not to notice this — and feel really strange about it. Although Klosterman has not changed a bit since 2001, when his first book Fargo Rock City was published, the culture-media landscape in which his readers live — and which he supposedly dissects — definitely has. And that poses a problem for the reader, who is now used to drowning in links, tweets, and Gossip Girl recaps, and who might think it’s a bit jarring to find a reference to very-current The Hills in a printed essay about Nirvana (especially when the book came out while The Hills was still on the air).
There is a moment when this will stop feeling strange, becomes natural, and actually starts feeling really good. It is for that moment that you should buy it and read it — only once you’ve turned off your laptop and hid it somewhere you forget. Eating the Dinosaur is current, but not timely, and it is that distinction which makes it a comforting read.
We’re living in a time when almost all cultural criticism is inevitably tied to publicity. Press releases and movie releases and celebrity deaths dictate the direction of our conversation, and thus, reading something modern without any commercial context — other than book sales, of course — provides an escape from an almost mind-numbing amount of cultural reviewing. Reading about Nirvana without there being a peg to a new box set provides a very different type of feeling than if it did, and we’re in danger of losing out on that feeling completely. This is not to say that only Klosterman can write with that detached-from-the-Internet perspective, nor that writing on the Internet can’t achieve that level of broader analysis. But this is a book review, so I have to mention that this is what Klosterman has now achieved with his latest collection, and why his book is worth storing for later consideration as a marker in the past decade’s evolution.
As a fan and a critic, I was disappointed by the quality of the essays. Objectively, they’re less witty and insightful than they used to be, and the ones about sports are still as skip-able as ever (same goes for the ABBA one if you’re a sports fan). It’s interesting, though, how he doesn’t seem to give a shit — and he doesn’t have to, because he’ll get published anyway. This, at least, allows him to be more audacious in his critique of us, the readers, and us, the current society. “I don’t care. Go read a Vampire novel,” he quips at one point, aware that there’s a lot of bullshit out there that we all buy into, and that even if we’re also reading his “more acceptable” book, it’s all our fault. We’re the people who made Kurt Cobain into a God, which in turn made him suicidal; we’re the people who have made the lies in advertising into acceptable facts of life. But he’s one of them too, and that kind of makes it OK (but only kind of). It’s these subtle hints of fault that have always made his work interesting, and might be the only aspect of Eating the Dinosaur in which it surpasses the others.
As I suspect many Klosterman readers can identify with, his various books, columns, and in-store appearances over the past decade have corresponded to my various stages of youth: high school, college, first loves, graduation, and now, the harsh post-grad/employment reality. For those of us who were first introduced to him when we were young and he was young, and are now reading him when we’re older and he’s older (strange how that happens! Aging!), the book will make sense in the context of his trajectory. Even if some of the stages don’t correspond exactly (he’s now married!), the underlying sense that we’re all growing up together provides a more interesting hook to the book than if he had an essay about Miley Cyrus. It’s somewhat worrisome, however, that I wish he had tackled the topic — but what can I say, I’m not at all Pre-Blog.