Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book #1 for 2010: Eating The Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

I have very high expectations for Chuck Klosterman. I read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs a few years ago after reading his thought provoking pieces in ESPN The Magazine. What I appreciated was how he intelligently analyzed popular culture without making it sound like he was above it. Maybe I'm not well-read enough to know other authors who pull this off. Klosterman offers rare cultural critique. Often I have no idea what he's talking about, however, his writing still affirms my own intellectual abilities, all the while taking me to subjects I want to explore in depth. In the meantime, I laugh a lot when I read Klosterman.

Though I'm not quite sure about this yet, I think Klosterman's methodology for cultural critique is part of who I want to be as a preacher--a balance of challenge and affirmation. In the midst of my imagination and the imaginations of people in the congregation--all that we see and all that we experience during the week--God is speaking. If you're not a Klosterman reader, very rarely does he address explicitly theological themes, but I love how his mind works, and even more so, how he writes.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about his Fall 2009 release: Eating The Dinosaur. I was initially disappointed with this book, and limped through the first 50 pages wondering when I was going to enjoy his analysis again. Granted, my expectations may be too high, because Klosterman usually hits the ground running. Not so with "Eating The Dinosaur." He's setting the stage in almost a Pauline fashion, digging himself a hole that might have stopped me from reading the book if it was my first Klosterman read. While in the short term he may be lumbering in obscurity, he is setting the stage for something powerful.

Klosterman also adeptly traverses between "high" and "low" cultures without missing a beat. His chapter on ABBA was a breakthrough in the book for me because it addresses what lacks in any discussion about worship and music in most ELCA congregations I have served. What is the place of music in how we look at the world? What makes music endure and transcend? The amusing yet painful distinction about worship and music discussions in the ELCA over the years is the stance of superiority from most people who choose to make arguments. Klosterman moves beyond these type of arguments in his cultural critique and finds different angles to observe culture. Out of nowhere in the chapter comes a statement about Vladimir Putin and his relationship with the ABBA tribute band, Bjorn Again (I admit, this statement piqued my interest because my wife and I bought tickets for my parents for a double date to see Bjorn Again). In the end, Klosterman makes intriguing moves to point to a general thesis about the paths humanity takes to construct reality. I think reality construction is important to consider for the Church, especially considering what different people consider to be important tenets of theology. Christians of different stripes construct realities based on the theological idea that we are all part of a fallen, sinful humanity, or the idea that the Bible is "inerrant." In Klosterman, everyone can participate in the philosophical discussion, whether you enjoy reading Martin Heidegger or Eric Alterman, or listening to Nirvana, ABBA, AC/DC, or any combination thereof.  Even viewers of the most popular sport in the United States, football, can participate in philosophical work.

Sometimes Klosterman maneuvers through various topics at dizzying speed. Have no fear--Klosterman's non-fiction titles contain indexes. If you don't remember where you read about Martin Heidegger, you can find him on page 215. If you don't remember where you read about Uncle Tom's Cabin, it can be found on page 202. Gene Simmons, page 109; FDR, page 35; barefoot punting, page 143.


  1. What is funny is this is one of the first three books I am reading for 2010! Great blog post.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, darthjedi--I'm looking forward to what you have to write about this Klosterman publication. I'm sure CK would be a bit uncomfortable with attaching some theological underpinnings to his work--but on this book, it was hard to avoid.

  3. This review makes me want to read this book. Seems like I may have read some Klosterman before, but I'm not sure where or when (maybe Esquire). Anything that gets me thinking about how we construct reality - especially in the age of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc... - is a good thing. That kind of constructing is everybody's business. Thanks for the post.

  4. Klosterman does write for Esquire. In this book he does make a few comments about Twitter and Facebook--which I probably should have addressed in the review, because they are probably connected to my readers. It's actually a rather quick read--I was interrupted often and ended up reading it in shorter sittings.

  5. You are a pastor, father, and husband (among other things). It is part of your calling to be "interrupted often!" LOL!