Sadly, when most people read a book, they skip the footnotes. They may glance down at a couple notes, hoping to glean a little extra insight into what they’re reading. But few people, with the possible exceptions of students or researchers, would deem footnotes essential to enjoying a book.
Chuck Klosterman’s footnotes, however, are always worth reading. The pop culture writer, best known for his essay collection Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, peppers his essays and stories with footnotes, but they’re always worth a look. Maybe they contain an extra fact that Klosterman didn’t know when he originally wrote the essay. Or maybe they contain a quote or anecdote that he left out of the story. Or, maybe they contain an insightful – or at least, hilarious – critique by the writer of his own work.
For instance, in his latest essay collection, Chuck Klosterman IV, Klosterman includes an essay he wrote in 1995 on the underground rock scene in Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota. Klosterman, clearly embarrassed by his early work, includes a ton of footnotes to this essay, most of them mocking or contradicting his work (“Trenchant!” is his comment on one pretentious musing from the old essay, while another earns a simple note of “Jesus Christ.” His second-to-last footnote on the essay contains the phrase “I was a really, really wretched person.").
I bring up the footnotes because they are a prime example of what’s great about Klosterman’s writing: he takes topics (or, in this case, literary devices) that aren’t intrinsically interesting and makes them fascinating. Or at least hysterically funny. IV contains a number of interviews and essays Klosterman has published over the years ranging from the typical – an Esquire interview of Britney Spears – to the more bizarre, such as a Spin magazine essay for which he watched 24 hours of VH1 Classic. Other subjects include a survey of Akron, Ohio, psychics and an annual event at Disneyland, in which hordes of Goths descend on the theme park.
No matter the topic, Klosterman is always fun to read. He lends complexity even to such over-interviewed celebs as Spears, who fascinates him with her seeming inability to acknowledge her own sexuality. That interview, which could have been a puff piece, evolves into an exploration of celebrities, public image and the media. Klosterman takes a simple interview and turns into something bigger – and manages to fit in several mentions of the fact that Spears was being photographed pants-less prior to the interview. That’s just genius.
His essays are equally twisty and insightful. My personal favorite is his observation of the fact that everyone needs both an archenemy and a nemesis. His descriptions of these two categories of rivals will be familiar to anyone who has attended a “friend’s” wedding and secretly hoped it would in a bitter, public divorce, or who has instantly disliked someone because he has the same first name as the bully who harassed you in grade school.
Klosterman has an opinion or theory about everything. And even when I disagree with him, I can’t stop reading. That’s because everything is a little more interesting when filtered through his voice. Even footnotes.