I completely understand why some people don't like Chuck Klosterman. At first I didn't like him either. I thought Fargo Rock City was a pretentious piece of garbage that failed to show any respect for its content, instead devolving into a series of jabs and quirks in a poorly conceived effort to make its author seem hip. Despite my loathing, I took a second plunge and read his follow-up. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs worked a little better, but Klosterman's trip of mixing pop culture and faux social commentary still felt like he was mocking you for liking the things that only he could appear cool liking.
At this point you'll agree I would be completely justified in never reading anything else by him. Maybe I just didn't "get it." Fair enough: we'll simply agree to disagree and go our separate ways.
But a funny thing happened. For some crazy reason (a streak of masochism, perhaps?) I picked up his third book, Killing Yourself to Live, a sort of Rolling Stone meets On the Road. And I liked it. There was a humbleness missing from his earlier work and the affection he held for the material was much more evident. And as much as I derided his earlier work, I was on my way to being a Klosterman fan. Which brings us to the improbable BOTM for August, Chuck Klosterman IV, a series of profiles and essays that have appeared in numerous magazines such as Spin and Esquire over the years. Collecting over ten years worth of material into a single volume might cause some serious disjointedness (and if that's not a real word, it is now - BAM!), but to his credit Klosterman makes it all flow naturally. Whether recounting a surreal ride with Bono or offering an opinion on the United State's overwhelming need to be liked, every piece makes for interesting reading. Great "chance" read, since I picked it up while waiting for my plane in Baton Rouge, LA.
Elsewhere in the month of August:
- Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince/Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling - No real need to review these separately, since you can really say the same thing about every volume in the Harry Potter series. Either you like them or you don't, and either answer's fine. I re-read Book 6 (Half Blood Prince) as a primer to the final installment, and it was about as I remembered it. Not great, it pretty much serves to introduce everything that's needed to resolve the series in Book 7. And what about Deathly Hallows? Three complaints: it's waaaay too long (how many chapters do we need of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine walking around in the woods?), the deaths of some of the major characters are treated in a very off-hand, casual way with the exception of one (I'm trying to avoid spoilers), and the whole sub-plot of the "Deathly Hallows" feels tacked on. Still, at over 700 pages there was a lot to like, and I enjoyed the cheesy epilogue. If Rowling truly puts the adventures of Mr. Harry Potter down for good (hopefully), she did it with equal doses of grace and fun.
- Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko - Before it was a Russian special effects extravaganza, it was the first book in an epic fantasy/SF trilogy by author Sergei Lukyanenko. Night Watch is actually divided into three parts - the movie takes it's basic plot from the fist story in the novel. All three parts focus on Anton, a mid-level magician/analyst for the Night Watch, the guardians of Light who watch over the uneasy truce between Light and Darkness. What makes Night Watch successful and different from your typical fantasy/SF work is the amount of bureaucracy Lukyanenko throws into the building of the plot. Licenses are issued, quotas need to be met, and there's in inordinate amount of paperwork involved in saving the world. This mix of the epic with the mundane is both refreshing and exciting. I'm looking forward to the next part of the series.
In between all the Harry Potter tons of comic books were read, including the final 4 trade books of Preacher, which now equals Sandman as my favorite comic ever, and The Surrogates, a kind of PKD future story that asks what the world would be like if the majority of its inhabitants interacted virtually via "surrogates" that walked the streets all day. An amazing concept that is investigated thoroughly in the trade, my only complaint is that it was tied into a truly mediocre murder mystery that had no mystery to it whatsoever.
And that's it. For September I'm switching gears a bit. After a few "lit" books (books found in the Literature section of your local Barnes and Noble or Borders) I decided to feed to beast with some comfort food, so the rest of the month is dealing primarily with books found in the SF section of your local bookstore.
Man, I almost forgot what holding a mass-market paperback felt like.