I’ve found trying to succinctly describe Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman a little challenging. In some ways it’s easy because it is (a) a book of essays, (b) a work of nonfiction, and (c) concerned with popular culture. This isn’t especially helpful though, since that describes a lot of books. A number of the essays revolve around sports and music, that’s for sure. One is so deeply entrenched in football history, in fact, that he advises some readers to skip it (though this is an outlier).
In a broad way, I suppose, I’d say this book questions facets of the reality in our society and how we come to interpret this reality through very specific examples of celebrity and popular culture. Maybe that’s still too vague, but this book has essays about the concept of time travel, Road movies, why we answer interview questions, and ABBA. Connective threads are bound to look a little tenuous from the outside.
I honestly picked this book up on a whim at a book fundraiser, its title and cover catching my eye, so I didn’t have any particular expectations going into reading it. What I commend Klosterman for right off the bat is how accessible he makes the topic of each essay, at least for me. Many of them are about the music industry and professional sports, two topics I have a passing interest in at best. Thankfully, he structured these essays in such a way that I could both appreciate the significance of his references and in turn the more broad theses he was building toward.
I think the best example of this is the essay “What We Talk About When We Talk About Ralph Sampson,” which is about a famous basketball player whose active years spanned the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. I had no idea who this man was. I still don’t, really. Nevertheless, the history he provided about Sampson was digestible enough to follow along, providing a foundation for a rather interesting look at why someone exceptional is considered a “bust” as a professional athlete and the strange standards to which we hold those we deem exceptional. On its surface a lot of the essay is about professional basketball, but what it’s really is more than that alone. Ralph Sampson’s career is more of a specialized lens for us to examine it through.
One thing I really liked about these essays that I think aided their accessibility further was how he broke them up into sections. At first this may sound more complicated than necessary, but I think it works really well. Basically, he will start with a section labeled 1, where he will begin the topic. Continuations that follow this thread will be labeled 1A, 1B, and so forth. He does not lay these out one after the other, however, so before you ever see 1A you may read 2, then 3, then 2A, and so on. Each distinct numbered section branches off into its own idea related to the topic that helps to compartmentalize information and inform you gradually as you go along.
The first essay “Something Instead of Nothing,” makes a great case for the whole collection, questioning why we conduct interviews, and more importantly, why we choose to answer their questions and/or trust the answers that come from them. I’d never before given much thought to why we do put such stock in interview answers and while I can’t say it’s completely changed me from being hardwired to treat them like everybody else does, it’s certainly got me looking at them differently. Klosterman used this topic to make some observations about the relatively new social media platforms of the time and the affects they’d have on us too. As I book published in 2010, I found these to be a little hauntingly accurate.
I definitely recommend checking Eating the Dinosaur if any of the topics brought up sound interesting to you. From skimming the book I picked it up because of the section on time travel, but I took away so much more from the book than that essay. You might be surprised by what you’ll learn from an otherwise foreign topic to you. Klosterman’s writing style is witty and humorous as well, which makes for a generally entertaining reading experience.
My Rating: 4 out of 5