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Saturday, January 27th, 2007
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Chunklet Presents: The Overrated Book

by Henry Owings

Rant 'n' Roll

A review by Gerry Donaghy

Late last year I received a very thoughtful gift from a friend who works at a major publishing house. It was a book detailing the top 500 rock albums ever produced. If you've listened seriously to pop music for more than about a decade, the book was as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotter's match. The only moment that could only be distantly called tense was guessing whether Sgt. Pepper's was going to be the number one album and Pet Sounds number two, or vice versa. After thumbing through the book, I went out for a drink with a friend and asked if he could guess the top ten albums. He got all but one, missing Marvin Gaye's What's Going On (number six).

What's the real point of all-time "best of" lists, especially if they're going to be more or less immutable? Sure, you can swap out Patti Smith with PJ Harvey or The Ramones with Nirvana to give it appeal to the next generation, but at the end of the day, it's more or less the same list that came out five, ten, or twenty years ago. Is there a collective fear amongst rock writers that viewing Sgt. Pepper's as anything less than the best album ever made will make them look like the one dentist out of five that doesn't recommend sugarless gum?

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Letters to a Young Contrarian, states "...there is something idiotic about those who believe that consensus (to give the hydra-headed beast just one name) is the highest good." Taking that philosophy to heart are the writers and editors of Chunklet magazine. In Chunklet Presents: The Overrated Book nothing is sacred and no prisoners are taken. In their opinion, everything is overrated, and chances are that if you read this book, you will find that something very dear to you will be deflated, defiled, or repudiated. And you won't mind one bit.

The Overrated Book is the perfect distillation of the entertainment value derived from mocking your friends' favorite anything. While you might actually like what you're making fun of, there is no denying the wonderful, almost perverse glee in being needlessly contrarian. The Chunklet writers don't just grind sacred cows, they atomize them; doing so in mercilessly piquant prose that is simultaneously spot-on and impossible to take too seriously.

Like most books of satire, some gags work better than others. "The 1000 Unrelated Overrated Things," for example, feels like filler, which may actually be the point, but that doesn't make reading it worthwhile. And an article on overrated drummers is like shooting fish in a barrel.

But, when the Chunklet writers hit their targets, they tear them to shreds. Whether they're scoffing at art-house film directors, indie rock culture in all of its DIY pomposity, or chumps (like me) with enormous student loans, their caustic wit makes for frequent episodes of near-asphyxiating laughter. It's difficult to summarize a book that is essentially a book of lists and charts, with a smattering of articles, but highlights include: "Work That Shaft!: Twenty-Three Time-Worn Methods to Step Up to the Mike," "The Seven Degrees of Winona Ryder," and " Rocktoids ."

This might be the work of a bunch of poseurs who are every bit as pathetic as those they mock, but I don't care. I don't need to see how my hamburger comes from the cow in order to enjoy it, and I can receive this book on its own, demented terms. If you can laugh at yourself as well as others, The Overrated Book deserves a place, if not on your coffee table, then at least your bathroom.

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