Review: I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman

41V+l8nW3NLMy experiences with certain authors are often tied to the women I was dating/hanging around trying to date at the time.

Yes, in the same way that “that guy” on campus sits around outside with his acoustic guitar with a small group of coeds surrounding him is using his guitar as a ploy to drown in their beautiful bodies, I did this with books.  Don’t get me wrong; I really do love reading, but it’s worth pointing out that book nerds find other book nerds quite attractive, and like to be perceived by other book nerds in the same fashion. It’s probably safe to say then that some men (and women) read in public not just because the book is good, but perhaps because they want to look smart and attractive at the same time.

It’s worth noting, however, that this plan NEVER worked for me (I wound up marrying a girl with whom I was good friends and found attractive; whodathunkit?).  I did, however, find an even deeper place in my heart for reading and discovered many a good author in the process.

Such is the case with Chuck Klosterman. I took this one girl on a date to a bookstore a few years ago (The now defunct Wolfgang Books in Phoenixville, PA; RIP). While there, she found a book that she had read and had me sit down and read a short essay out of it.  The book happened to be Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low-Culture Manifesto. The essay was about a stray cat whom the author believed was stealing his socks.  I found this to be a hilarious concept, and bought the book on the spot. The girl and I did go our separate ways in a less-than-amicable split, but hey, she introduced me to a new writer!

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed just about anything I’ve read by Klosterman, and  I Wear the Black Hat is no exception.  IWtBH is a collection of essays revolving around the idea of villains, a group which Klosterman defines as “those who know the most and care the least.” It’s an interesting way of defining villains that leads to a host of great essays and poignant thoughts that entertain and, to a certain degree, provoke insight. For example, Klosterman opens his book with an essay examining the character of Snidley Whiplash from the Rocky and Bullwinkle short Dudley Do-Right. Snidley, Klosterman says, is obsessed with capturing women (most often Nel, in this case), tying them up, and putting them on train tracks.  Such a death does warrant a designation of evil; it forces the victim to watch their doom speed toward them while they struggle to free themselves, but it begs the question: why?  Why do such a thing? Snidley never demands a ransom for Nel, he has no monetary motivation to engage in such behavior, and surely he KNOWS this.  That’s the thing though: Snidley doesn’t care, and he happily continues capturing helpless ladies and affxing them to active railroads where a locomotive is barreling down in that direction. This is what makes Snidley Whiplash a villain: he knows the most (there’s nothing to be gained from his activity) and cares the least.  Klosterman actually makes Snidley an even greater villain by pointing out that he has no reason to continue his behavior, and what’s worse than a villain without any reason to be evil at all?  In the words of Alfred Pennyworth, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The fact that he can make a sociological/philosophical reflection/analysis out of some small piece of pop culture is why I love Klosterman so much. Most of his examinations in this book are of actual villainous types: he looks at the legend of DB Cooper, the Oakland Raiders, The Eagles song “Take it Easy,” and a host of other random pop culture references that out of which you wouldn’t think to draw much.  Klosterman is very much a man who just looks at the world and comes up with random thoughts out of thin air.

This does kind of function as a double-edged sword though; at some points in the book, I found myself saying, “OK…and this matters why?” Klosterman will take to rambling for extended periods, then somehow swing it all back around to his original point, but it felt like too much of a shift in gears to get back sometimes.  At some points, he talks about absolutely nothing, and yet you find yourself engrossed in it. It’s fascinating, and you have no idea why.

This was a great book to read, but I do have to say, unfortunately, I wouldn’t want to own it.  I’m a Klosterman fan, sure, but once you’ve read it, it kind of loses its novelty.  It’s the kind of book that provides you with some interesting thoughts to share at dinner parties, but once those anecdotes are out there, telling them again just makes them redundant. I’ve revisited Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs more than a few times for a laugh, but I really can’t see myself doing it.  If you’re an avid Klosterman reader and want to add it to your collection, then step right on up and buy it.  Maybe even get it as a gift for a friend.  I personally just went to the library and checked it out.  Either way, it is a great book to read at least once.  Check it out!

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