Bandwagon Snob: An Untraditional Review of Experiencing Chuck Klosterman's Writing
Despite the fact that I am a girl from Los Angeles who came to New York only to endure an earthquake, and got excited to experience my very first hurricane, which turned out to be nothing more than a bit of rain, I still can say that I had some true fortune last week. A good friend of mine spent the summer interning at Random House books, a beautiful 21-story building on the Upper West Side. Any avid reader’s dream, Random House has shelves called “grab shelves,” where endless books wait patiently for the taking. In case you did not catch that, I will reiterate: free books! Both the Jew and the bibliophile within me felt my heart go aflutter as I prepared myself for this kid-in-a-candy-shop experience. Along my journey, I picked up Chuck Klosterman’s new book, The Visible Man. While I had not read Klosterman’s earlier work, his name constantly came up in conversations with my friends and on the list of books that Amazon so kindly recommends for me.
At a Friday night dinner last week, I mentioned to a girl I was talking with that I had just started reading The Visible Man – but this was an incident of true hashgacha pratis, Divine Intervention, as this girl was a bona-fide Klosterman fanatic. She instructed me that I would need to start with Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a book of essays, before moving on to Klosterman’s fiction. I had no idea that being a cultural pseudo-intellectual came with such specific rules. Later in the conversation, the talk turned to Twilight, the famed Stephanie Meyer series. I immediately turned my nose up at those who would waste their time reading the musings of a girl who just couldn’t decide between a werewolf and a vampire – silly trend followers. Suddenly, I caught myself in a cage of hypocrisy. Was my desire to start reading Chuck Klosterman so different from all those people who just need to read Twilight? Was I being a bandwagon snob?
Although I originally intended to write a review of Klosterman’s new book, this psychological and artistic trend baffled me. What is it that attracts some to artistic enterprises while it leaves others unaffected by their spell? Perhaps, I pondered, it is the existential need to be part of something larger. Some want to be part of the Twilight world, with its pale emo-looking teenagers and vampires, while others would rather crawl into bed with someone like Klosterman—not literally—and take a bite of his satire and wit. True to my open-minded nature, I decided it certainly wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Twilight without giving the melodramatic teenage love story a chance. This is how the multi-million dollar saga begins: “I’d never given much thought to how I would die - though I’d had reason enough in the past few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” Now, this is how Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs begins (not to mention how much more alluring the title is): “No woman will ever satisfy me. I know that now, and I would never try to deny it. But this is actually okay, because I will never satisfy a woman, either.” (Fascinating happenstance connection between Klosterman and Meyers: his first chapter is actually called “This is Emo”!)
I admit that I am majoring in English Literature, and therefore might be slightly more selective and demanding when it comes to the syntax and content of the novels I read, but I would wager that even the less enthusiastic reader would prefer to read about Klosterman’s inability to be satisfied by or satisfy a woman than Meyer’s narrator’s thoughts of death. While I am not approaching either of these pieces as a self-help book, as neither death nor dissatisfaction puts a smile on my face, I feel as though it comes down to the following: I want to read what I care about. So while many teenagers (and adults as well) are looking to be transported into a world of mythical creatures, I am looking for someone else who is trying to figure out life and is expressing his or her ideas with endless snide, but brilliant, comments and references to pop culture icons - that’s Klosterman in a nutshell. Though I am happy with my decision to choose Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs over Twilight, am I really turning into a cynic only interested in the somewhat-philosophical rants of a witty stranger? Where are the days of fantasy and magic—have I really given up?
I don’t have a concrete answer to my question. Certainly, the romantic within my soul is far from dead—I watched Big Fish the other night and still cried like I did the first time I saw the movie, and could watch Harry Potter endlessly—but perhaps my area of interest has moved from the heart to the head. When I was a teenager, I loved nothing more than (embarrassing confession afoot) cuddling up with Jodi Picoult book and having my heart torn apart as she throws her characters up and down, exposing them to all the worst things that have ever happened in the world. The emotional rollercoaster was thrilling. I imagine that this is part of the appeal of Twilight: becoming so invested in a character that his or her relationship pulls at your heart the way that a real boyfriend/girlfriend would. Perhaps if I were to dive head-first into Twilight, I would be so immersed in its characters that I would not be the least surprised if one night Edward Cullen were to show up in my room, stupid hair cut and all. In effect, this type of literature is virtual reality; it allows you to experience love, pain, and many other emotions from the comfort of your Kindle or iPad.
Unsure of why or when I made this conscious choice, it looks like I have taken the up escalator and am stuck somewhere in the cerebral realm. If I want to connect to a piece of art, I prefer to be playing around in the artist’s mind, rather than just caught up in his or her colors and effects. This is probably why my favorite Emily Dickinson poem is “I Felt a Funeral in my Brain.” Dickinson brings to the light the ability to transmit phenomenological experience from the mind to physical imagery that is concurrently tangible and sublime. Okay, so maybe I am a bit of a snob. But, if I am going to jump on a cultural bandwagon, I like that I have hopped onto Klosterman’s. It’s nice to know that someone else out there is thinking, rather than think that I live in a world where people are just spending all their time hooking up with vampires.
Ultimately, art is about the reader, the viewer, the listener. An author’s goal is not for the reader to experience exactly what the creator was going through at the time when he or she wrote the piece, but rather to evoke something new within the reader. While I get my yahoos from having my mind tickled, if others want their heartstrings pulled, that is their right. But, if you’re looking to leave your mind in the hands of a “talented yarn-spinner,” then give yourself over to Klosterman. I’m sure you’ll agree with the following assertion made by People magazine: “Dude, this rules!!!”