Photo credit: Jason Booher
Describe your latest book.
This is kind of an abnormal scenario, because I have one book coming out in paperback and another book out in hardcover within the span of a month. But What If We’re Wrong?
— a book that tries to view the present as if it were the distant past while examining the possibility that our most widely accepted views about culture and science are incorrect — was released in softcover in late April. But then in May, I’m putting out Chuck Klosterman X
, which is an anthology of the journalism and essay writing I’ve done over the past decade. They’re obviously both nonfiction, but the books themselves are not that similar. But What If We’re Wrong?
is about one big idea, considered in many different ways. X
is about a lot of disparate people and concepts, but all viewed through the prism of semi-traditional media.
Then again, I wrote both of them, so how different can they really be?
What was your favorite book as a child?
Go Dog Go!
, by P. D. Eastman. I now read this book to my own kids, but they don’t seem to like it as much as I did. Maybe having a big dog party in a tree doesn’t resonate with modern young people.
When did you know you were a writer?
You know, I think there are two answers to this question, both of which are less romantic than a lot of authors seem to pretend. The first answer is that you know you’re a writer when random strangers start identifying you as a writer, because those people are not motivated by anything beyond a desire to be correct about whatever seems obvious. The second answer is that you know you’re a writer when you realize there isn’t anything else you could do that would be a better life. Which is not to say that you literally couldn’t do anything else, because writers who claim they only write because they have no other skills are generally lying. You could always make a living doing something else, and anyone who can figure out how to write a book could figure out a way to make a living through other means. But at some point, I realized that writing was what I wanted to do, and that I could do it well enough to make a living, and that my natural inclinations as a human seemed to naturally overlap with the life of a writer. So then I was like, “I guess this is who I am.”
What does your writing workspace look like?
What do you care about more than most people around you?
I would say the possibility of whether or not reality is actually happening the way we perceive it. However, my wife says it’s the TV remote, and I think she’s probably right. If someone drops my remote control and the batteries spill out, I momentarily feel like I was just diagnosed with cancer.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
A guy once sent me a copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
that was all charred and blackened. He told me that his house had recently burned to the ground, and that this book was the only thing that had survived. I thought that was an interesting decision to make in the wake of a tragedy: “Hey, I don’t have a house anymore, but maybe this author will be interested in the fact that his book didn’t burn. Better get to the post office!”
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I hate dinner parties, because I’m always afraid I will dislike the food they serve, and then I’ll have to pretend that I actually think the salad is awesome.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
This guy isn’t exactly “unknown,” but I would say Padgett Powell. And the book to read is The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?
Such a brilliant concept.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
Not really. I prefer to keep everything I have acquired, so my entire existence is a collection of junk.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
In the summer of 1987, I cross-pollinated corn plants for the Pioneer Seed Company. But I’m not sure it was that strange, and it definitely wasn’t interesting.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I don’t think I have. I dislike traveling. I prefer to just read about places without actually going anywhere.
What scares you the most as a writer?
The possibility of waking up one morning and suddenly being unable to write anything. I worry about that constantly. Oh, also: the possibility that my writing is boring and that my motives for publishing are subconsciously intertwined with some pathetic psychological complex. But I try not to think about that.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
How would this be my decision? Is the biography authorized? The writer can pick the title. I don’t want to be a control freak.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Pretty much any sentence or passage from any Raymond Carver
story. You can almost pick one at random, really. His sentences are so clear. Nothing is happening, yet one sentence can feel like an entire story. The critical sentences and the ancillary sentences are delivered identically. Carver’s sentences are a little like Keith Richards’s chord changes — they’re uniformly excellent, because it’s the best version of the best style. And that’s what good writing is, I think: style, tone, tempo, and clarity. The ability to construct an exceptionally beautiful sentence is impressive, but also secondary to the overall goal, which is to propel the reader to consume whatever sentence comes next.
(I also realize I probably overthought this question and just should have said, “Jesus wept,” or something.)
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
It would be disingenuous of me to do this.
Describe a recurring or particularly memorable dream or nightmare.
I often have dreams where something terrible is happening, and it’s my fault, and I don’t know how I will explain what I have done. But then something insane will occur — a pterodactyl will start attacking the car I’m driving, or a brick wall will turn into smoke — and I will suddenly realize I’m dreaming, and I’ll feel this massive sense of relief. But then I try to do something supernatural within the lucid dream, and I will immediately feel the dream dissolving as I begin to wake up. So I will try to stay in the dream. I fight the coming consciousness. But it never works. I always wake up.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
People who place the word “and” after a semi-colon. I’m not even sure if it’s technically incorrect to do so, but it really strikes me as idiotic.
Do you have any phobias?
I don’t know. I’m scared of situations where I feel like I could accidentally die, but that doesn’t seem like a phobia to me. That seems rational.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
If I felt guilty about the things that give me pleasure, guilt would be the only thing I’d ever feel.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you’re in love with someone and you want that person to reciprocate your love, whatever you do to make that happen will have no impact on the end result. If the other person already digs you, doing nothing will work as well as giving them 100 thoughtful gifts or making 1,000 heart-felt expressions of love. If they’re not into you, any inaction will be perceived as a lack of interest and any attempt you make at persuasion will be perceived as emotional suffocation. So just do whatever you want. You can’t control how other people feel.
What Van Halen track is most representative of their overall musical signature?
“Hot for Teacher.” It’s not their best song, but it contains every element of the Van Halen songwriting philosophy: an unusually long intro that evolves into an introductory riff, an introductory riff that collapses into a memorable central riff, vocals that are spoken more than they are sung, lyrics that make an ostensibly sexist scenario seem charming and harmless, and a complicated two-part guitar solo that involves fret hammering. It’s the whole package.
The Top Five Books That I Remember Being Great, Despite the Fact That I Can Remember Almost Nothing Else About Them:
Maybe I’m the only person who has this problem, but I doubt it: Sometimes I will read a book, and I will love it. I will have multiple conversations about how awesome it is, and I will tell other people they need to read the book immediately. But then something frustrating occurs — my specific memories of the book rapidly fade, to the point of virtual nonexistence. It will be almost as if I never read the book at all; I will remember conversations about the book more than the text itself. In other words, I will know that the book is great, even though I have no mental proof. These are five prime examples.
by Frank Herbert
“Life is not a question to be answered but a reality to be experienced.” This line is the only thing I remember about Dune
. I mean, I know there are sandworms and a mystical spice and a metric ton of characters, but I’m pretty sure I knew those things before I ever picked it up. Yet I also know I once loved this book, because I intended to read all the sequels. But then I went to college and got distracted by less productive lifestyle habits.
2. A Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
This is a novel I read during college, in a class melodramatically named “20th Century Literature: Breaking the Rules.” I recall having long, seemingly important conversations about the novel with two different women. I remember those late-night conversations vividly. But I barely remember the book itself, outside of the most basic elements of the theme. And you know, I actually met Margaret Atwood at a book event in Canada a few years ago. She was pretty cool, and I told her how vital this novel was to me when I was 21, and I was not lying. But I’m glad she didn’t ask me for any specifics, because I would have needed to pretend I was drunker than I actually was.
3. The Looming Tower
by Lawrence Wright
I read this the year it came out, and I suppose I still remember a few key details (particularly a passage about a relative of Osama bin Laden pushing a goat down a mountainside in order to forge a passable foot path). But I don’t remember it with the clarity I would prefer. When you read a book like this, you can almost feel yourself getting smarter — you feel like you’re becoming an expert on the subject in real-time. You think to yourself, “I could deliver an extemporaneous lecture on the origin of 9/11, and my lecture would be great, simply from reading this book.” However, that sensation evaporates in about three weeks. This is a 540-page book, of which I retained maybe 40 pages of viable information. I wish I could just upload it into my brain.
4. Native Son
by Richard Wright
When I was in eighth grade, I gave an oral book report on this novel that went on for so long the teacher actually said, “That’s enough. We get it.” So why can I no longer remember the plot? All I can recall is the part about the rat. Did I get a concussion or something? Maybe.
5. A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
I read this in either 1995 or 1996, on a mattress on the floor in my apartment in Fargo. I told so many people they needed to read this book. I probably told everyone I knew. Even today, I can still see this book on my shelf as I type this very email. There it is, just sitting there. But what’s it about? I have no idea. It’s a mystery, right? Like a postmodern noir thing? Or am I totally wrong? Was it funny, or was it not funny? I give up.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the bestselling author of seven books of nonfiction (including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
and I Wear the Black Hat
) and two novels (Downtown Owl
and The Visible Man
). He has written for The New York Times
, The Washington Post
, The Guardian
, The Believer
, The A.V. Club
, and ESPN
. Klosterman served as the Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine
for three years, appeared as himself in the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits
, and was an original founder of the website Grantland with Bill Simmons. Chuck Klosterman X
is his most recent book.