Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

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Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A collection of random essays from a man who is far too intelligent for me. He seems to write well, but on American subjects I know very little about, which makes it difficult to judge. If writing can ever be considered too intelligent, this could be it.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571232208

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There are two types of book that seem to have come on in a big way in recent years. The first is what my local bookstore calls Tragic True Life Stories, in which authors with a tragic past tell their story. The other is collected essays and columns, as it seems that any celebrity writer with a regular newspaper column gets the chance to have them collected together in book form every so often. Unfortunately, Jeremy Clarkson seems to be the front runner in this particular sub-genre.

I don’t know where the essays that make up Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs may have appeared previously, but the style of the book is certainly very similar. Klosterman doesn’t seem to have a specialist subject like most, although the book is subtitled A Low Culture Manifesto, which provides some indication of where his interests lie.

Klosterman writes on subjects which I suspect are aimed at a slightly younger audience or one more knowledgeable about popular culture than I am. He takes on more or less every aspect of life; music, film, television, sport, internet pornography and breakfast cereals. In various essays, he compares Pamela Anderson and Marilyn Monroe, explains why the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky was actually better than most film critics told us and gives the reasons why 'soccer' will never take off in America.

Two things are immediately obvious in reading many of Klosterman's essays. The first is that for many of his subjects, I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. There’s a long essay based around the MTV program The Real World, which I had only barely heard of, which was completely lost on me, although I think I followed the more general point he was trying to make.

This is the case with the majority of Klosterman’s essays in this book. His writing is centred on American pursuits and culture, which doesn’t always translate particularly well into English culture. Whilst there may be few English people who are completely unaware of people like Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise, the intricacies of coaching little league baseball will be unfamiliar territory to most of us, I suspect.

That said, when Klosterman strays into subject areas I know more about and I am better able to follow his train of thought, it then becomes clear how intelligent a writer he actually is. Anyone who can make a case for comparison between Van Halen and the Dixie Chicks and, even more, make it seem plausible, has to be congratulated. It is perhaps Klosterman’s greatest achievement that he manages to write so expertly on such a wide range of different subjects and make the most unlikely of hypotheses seem relevant and believable.

The major problem I have with Klosterman's writing is that he tends to take a long time proving his hypotheses. He regularly disappears off onto obscure tangents before finally circling round and coming to the point from some strange direction before vanishing off on another tangent and coming back once more. This is particularly noticeable in his essay on Billy Joel, where he makes the same point in a similar fashion several times. Perhaps when the essays were originally written he had to fill a certain word count, but in this form it feels like he's waffling just to fill space.

When he does keep to his subject, though, Klosterman proves that he can write well. His essay on following a Guns 'N' Roses tribute band seems to have no agenda other than to report their actions, along with maybe making a minor point about the state of the music industry. Because of this, he has no tangents to go off on and he largely keeps to the subject, making this the easiest to read essay here.

At times Klosterman seems too intelligent for his own good, although it could be that he's just too intelligent for me. Much of his writing I found unfathomable, although I do believe that was down to his knowledge being in totally different areas to mine. Someone with a more rounded knowledge of American pop culture would probably find this a far better read than I did. Even here, however, there is one word of warning; the book was first published in 2003 and so is starting to seem a little dated now. In a couple of points, I did wonder why he had failed to use certain examples, before it occurred to me that the example wouldn't have existed at the time of writing. If this is something you'd be interested in, it's an intelligent and rewarding read; but for me that was only true around half of the time.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this type of book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend by Christopher Ross.

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Buy Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman at


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