Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Read a Book.

I had not planned to read Killing Yourself to Live, by Chuck Klosterman. A promotional copy of it ended up lying around my residence and I picked it up. It was so entertaining and readable that I actually ended up finishing it, a feat that is rarer these days than I'd like to admit.

Klosterman writes for Spin and Esquire magazines, and who knows where else. He is one of the rare writers who can actually ramble significantly off-topic and keep you with him, partly because of his skill at declaring things that seem very true even if they're patently questionable (such as "Sexuality is 15 percent real and 85 percent illusion"). Pop culture, music and human relations are his domain. It's not surprising that he's made such a career out of magazine writing.

What's surprising is that Klosterman managed to publish and sell this book even though it has very little to do with the premise on which it's based. Killing is ostensibly the nonfictional tale of Klosterman going to visit various locations of various rock stars' deaths; it's actually about that and Klosterman's love life, random encounters, drug experiences and a bunch of other stuff. In other words, it's about nothing.

It's an exercise in ego, with very little restraint. And I ate the whole thing! Now, I feel kind of guilty, and a little annoyed... but I also enjoyed myself. It makes me think about Hal Niedzviecki.

Some months ago, I noticed in my Flavorpill newsletter that Hal was going to be in town, reading from his book. My first reaction was, "Hey. I went to high school with that guy." My second reaction was, "Hal Niedzviecki got a fucking book deal?"

Now, Hal was on the same literary magazine with me at Winston Churchill High School. I think he was in a different class, but to be honest I really can't remember. I can't remember anything about his writing, either, or what he did for the magazine. The only things I recall about Hal were that he had glasses and kinda poufy hair and that he seemed like an affable guy.

Hal's book is called Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity. This is from the description on his Web site: "In chronicling his singular encounters as an editor and pop culture explorer, his meditations touch on everything from religion to Karaoke, from declining birth rates to Celebrity Worship Syndrome, from Mississauga's famed Backyard Wrestling Federation to Friday night Sabbath in Atlanta, Georgia."

Ignore the dangling modifier and kamikaze capitalization here and note that Hal is basically a self-styled Canadian Chuck Klosterman, and that apparently it's possible to call oneself a "pop culture explorer" with an entirely straight face and get away with it.

My reaction may sound like sour grapes, and that's because it is. My whole life I've wanted a book deal. But no one has ever called me up and said, "Gee, Christina, we really love your writing. Can we publish it on paper, in bound form, and pay you to do so?" I suppose I could try to do what Hal and Chuck must have done, the old "get an agent" and "fashion a book proposal" route. But that would mean risking failure, something I'm unwilling to do.

When I lived in New York, my friend Jackson and I used to sit in bars and talk about writing. Jackson wrote short stories. I would read them, and give him feedback over whiskey sours. His work was usually in the noir and/or sci-fi vein, and he had a keen mind for plot. He would try to describe how easy Hollywood conventions are, and encouraged me to create outlines of stories that I wanted to write. I would argue that literary fiction shouldn't be so formulaic -- I wanted to write something organic, something that evolved as it went along. Accordingly, I do not have one piece of finished fiction to my credit to this day, and Jackson has written (and possibly published) several stories.

It's easier to feel less jealous of Jackson -- or of, say, Cathy Yuspa, a Churchill alum who became a successful Hollywood writer -- because these people are actually working on plots and dialogue, and I have never tried much to excel at that. It's the Chucks and Hals and David Sedarises that get me, because they give the impression that they just sat down one day and blurted out whatever they happened to be thinking at the time, and next thing you know they're on book tours and doing interviews for major media outlets.

I mean, I can blurt random thoughts out too, I do it all the time! Sure, Chuck and David are more talented than I am, but that's beside the point. (I didn't think this through before writing it, so I'm not sure what the point is.)

Considering the fact that people have even managed to publish books about how many books there are in the world, maybe it's time to lower my book proposal standards. Maybe, as pb dot c suggests, I should shoot for UncMo: A Novel. I have other proposal ideas floating around, too. Stay tuned for Hey, Some Things About Health Food Stores: My Year of Shopping in the Organic Age and Jigga Who? My Batttle to Keep Up with Pop Culture in My Mid-Thirties. Other ideas welcome.


  1. I wish you would be more clear about how you feel.

  2. It's all f*cked up. Take the Wonkette -- a Gen-X bitch kitty whose singluar claim to fame is repeating salacious gossip. Her only journalistic endeavor was outing Jessica Cutler. Now she's got some cushy job at Time's DC bureau, with one book in print and another in the works. This week she's guest blogging on Andrew Sullivan's blog; and while the other two guest editors pontificate on the Middle East and such, she's just dishes the same vapid Mean Girls cattiness that made her famous. She's yet another supermodel discovered while slurping a diet soda in the World Wide Mall.

    Anyway, I've given up on fiction -- and yes, I have had some shorts published, though in every case a photocopier played a part in production (remember the 'zine craze of the mid-90s? I was there!).

    I've been pushing you to write UnCo the Book for a while now. And you've already promised the dedication to me, fiance be damned, so the rest of you can back off!

  3. Wow, that is an effective takedown of Wonkette. I used to think she was really funny when she wrote for Suck, but I haven't read anything of hers since she became Wonkette. She did marry well, I've been dealing with her spouse on a work project and he's super. As an aside, I think we should abandon all feminized monikers (-ette, -ess, -tress, -babe, -girl) for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as anything.

  4. Anonymous12:04 PM

    maureen dowd won a pulitzer prize for sniffing around the clinton lewinky post coital puddle; wonkette is just following the formula.

  5. Whoops! Well, if I've screwed the pooch for you, just send an invoice for the kill fee to my house.

  6. Anonymous6:41 PM

    It's deeply depressing that people in their mid-30s get the big reward of plum MSM assignments simply for being snarky and clever rather than actually knowing something. It was depressing to watch Anne Kornblut on Fox last Sunday (she was honest: "I don't know anything about the Middle East or the law, but let's talk political gossip!" making guys like Brit Hume and Bill Kristol look like wise men of depth).

    As for Ana Marie, I don't like her much myself, but she does have a brain, and she does write well. She's been rewarded though simply for slightly clever 'above it all' ennui rather than policy depth, investigative journalistic smarts, or historical insight (the latter is really tragic, her dad was a Johnson 'whiz-kid' after all.)

    Maybe I'm just a geek, but news media should be more than just gossip and entertainment. Is that all we have to offer? Or worse, is that all that gets rewarded? Ultimately, this shit matters after all.

  7. Anonymous1:53 PM

    hey you're getting love on the verbungle blog roll!!

    wow. no you gotta write a book.

  8. I think gossip and entertainment is all that gets rewarded, in organizations that need to look at the bottom line. Is it too fantastic to imagine someone who could be incisive and knowledgable but also entertaining at the same time?

  9. Also I would like to know what happened to tha pb dot c's novel.


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