The Bookworm: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. 272 pages. Scribner. 2004.

…it’s clear that Luke Skywalker was the original Gen Xer. For one thing, he was incessantly winy. For another, he was exhaustively educated — via Yoda — about things that had little practical value (i.e., how to stand on one’s head while lifting a rock telekinetically). Essentially, Luke went to the University of Dagobah with a major in Buddhist philosophy and a minor in physical education. There’s not a lot of career opportunities for that kind of schooling; that’s probably why he dropped out in the middle of the semester. Meanwhile, Luke’s only romantic aspirations are directed toward a woman who (literally) looks at him like a brother. His dad is on his case to join the family business. Most significantly, all the problems in his life can be directly blamed on the generation that came before him, and specifically on his father’s views about what to believe (i.e., respect authority, dress conservatively, annihilate innocent planets, etc.).

I didn’t do shit yesterday…and it was glorious.

Well, I take that back. I watched Indy, wrote about Indy (while watching it), worked out, and finished Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman.

Here it is in one word: witty. I have never read anything so sharp, clever, insightful, and funny.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is a collection of pop culture essays as varied in subject as the title suggests. Klosterman, a native of North Dakota, is a journalist who has worked as a sports reporter and art critic for newspapers and magazines; he is a former columnist for Esquire and has been a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, SPIN, and ESPN. (After buying this book I noticed a Bill Simmons interview with him on I thought, “Who the fuck is this guy.”) Klosterman is everywhere, and so are his interests. His essays deal with everything from unrealistic relationship expectations (a rant against “When Harry Met Sally”), sugar coated breakfast cereals, patriotism, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 1980s, and “Saved by the Bell.”

The choicest chapters, in my opinion, are “Appetite for Replication,” a piece of literary journalism about a Guns N’ Roses tribute band, and “Ten Seconds to Love,” an analytic essay about Pamela Anderson and America’s ever-changing sexual desires, apparently written while Klosterman watched the famous Pamela and Tommy Lee sex tape on Christmas Eve, an annual ritual of his (which is funny but sooooo sad). If nothing else, “Ten Seconds to Love” is precious for this, the funniest thing I’ve probably ever read:

My eyes have drifted back to my TV just now, and I spent a few moments looking at Tommy Lee’s penis. I realize this is no brilliant insight, but Tommy Lee’s genitalia is stupidly huge. In the scene I’m watching right now, he appears to be beating his penis against the steering wheel of a boat.

The bus echoed with my laugher when I read that.

This is intelligent social journalism and criticism…and it’s readable. Klosterman is no Franzen; his writing is unpretentious and understandable, which is much appreciated and respected. It’s one thing to be smart and analytical, and another thing to be smart and analytical and articulate. Klosterman possesses all three qualities, which makes for great reading.

My one criticism (besides a few glaring factual mistakes, pre-mature endings, and disagreements with his beliefs on news journalism) is this: true to Klosterman’s love of music and his background as a music critic, the book and table of contents are arranged similar to a CD track listing. Each essay features a chronological number, the title, and the starting page number formatted, oddly, like a running time: 0:26, 1.87, etc. Plus, each essay is followed by an “interlude,” a short, 150- to 200-word vignette that vaguely relates to the piece. From what I can tell none of it serves any purpose other than to be original and quirky. It’s useless. Ironically, in the same piece containing his ill-informed opinions on news reporting, Klosterman talks mad shit about newspaper graphic designers, saying they treat stories, headlines, and photos as props to be arranged and made enticing. It looks like that’s exactly what he wanted done with this book.

New word I learned: snarky. I’ve seen this word a lot lately (it seems to be the catchword of the young Obama administration), but despite the context — usually describing shallow, blond(e), celebrities or sneaky politicians — I have no clue what it means exactly. My MacBook dictionary defines it as “sharply critical; cutting; snide.” Given that explanation, I can only think it has been misused. Ironically, it’s a better description of the journalists who write about those they feel are snarky.

I highly recommend Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Klosterman impressed me; so much so I went to Skylight this weekend and bought another of his essay collections. I mean, how can I not love a guy who refers to “Maximum Overdrive” the same way I do: “that Stephen King flick with all the AC/DC songs”?

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