The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Friday, September 25, 2009
A Tale of Two Critics
Two of my favorite pop culture critics are Chuck Klosterman and Joe Queenan. I read books from both this month.

Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas by Chuck Klosterman - This is a collection of essays divided into three categories: Things That Are True, Things That Might Be True, and Something That Isn't True At All. The first section consists of previously published articles covering music, movies, and sports. The middle section contains opinion pieces that appeared mostly in Spin and Esquire. The last part is a short story, perhaps a "feeler" to see how the public would receive Klosterman's then-forthcoming debut novel (the paperback edition includes an excerpt from Downtown Owl). I don't always share Klosterman's opinions and taste -- heck, the guy's favorite band is KISS -- but I enjoy his writing immensely. He even makes basketball sound interesting, and I hate basketball. My only complaint about IV is the publisher's decision to include extra material in the paperback edition. This is a big f-you to everyone who paid more for the hardcover edition. Out of spite, I sat in a Borders this week and read all the new essays, which are mostly in the Things That Might Be True section. As much as I like Klosterman, I'm not going to buy the same book twice. Note: I wouldn't expect anyone to actually buy the now-obsolete hardcover edition, but I included it below anyway.

Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America by Joe Queenan - As a longtime cultural snob, Queenan decides to immerse himself in the worst our country has to offer for an entire year. He goes to Broadway shows like Cats. He listens to Michael Bolton and Kenny G. He reads books by Joan Collins and V.C. Andrews. He watches movies starring Adam Sandler and Demi Moore. He dines at Sizzler and the Olive Garden. He visits Las Vegas and Branson. And of course, he skewers them all with the mischievous, sarcastic wit I've come to expect from Queenan. But suddenly, he starts to like all this crap. Instead of recoiling, he begins seeking out and reveling in the pop cultural junk of the masses. Although these are easy targets, Queenan's wicked critiques are hilarious. As a book, however, Red Lobster isn't great. The plot is weak and predictable. The copyright page reveals that several chapters were originally magazine articles, which explains the book's patched-together construction. And in the end, it's a lot of snark without much insight about what makes something bad or good.

This month I've been trying to clean up DJWriter World Headquarters. About 90% of the books I've read and reviewed this year are still in my office, as well as stacks from the past several years (books that I reviewed as well as books that I meant to review). It has reached the point where I can barely fit between the piles, and one of the cats is always knocking them down. Perhaps the best way to sum up these two books is to say that I enjoyed reading both, but Chuck Klosterman IV is going on a bookshelf while Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon is going in a box for my next visit to an used book store.

Current tally: 73 books finished, 65 books acquired

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