Category Archives: Author Features

Creative Inight On Popular Culture: Chuck Klosterman

Pop Culture: Chuck Klosterman’s Wit and Insight

Chuck Klosterman watches a seemingly inordinate amount of television. He also rocks out to Black Sabbath, Radiohead and Fleetwood Mac. He devours all that pop culture indiscriminately puts on his dryly sarcastic, insightful and post-modern intellectual plate.

The senior Spin magazine writer has gained popularity outside of the well-known publication in his lengthy cultural commentary, “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.”

Klosterman’s self-proclaimed manifesto can be scathingly funny, occasionally so hysterical readers are prone to lose any audio while laughing (see “Track 7: George Will versus Nick Hornby”), and it will dramatically change the way many view MTV’s “The Real World,” “Saved By the Bell” and the uncool genius of Billy Joel’s music.

Klosterman’s work is not solely a basic satirical summation of why people passionately cared (or for some, still care) about the shallow love triangle between “Saved by the Bell” characters Zack, Kelly and Slater, or a general acknowledgement of the annoyance soccer moms consistently bring to American suburbia. Using post-modernism as his theoretical backdrop, the writer dives into the representations of reality often misinterpreted as insignificant actions and images.

The comedic breadth of this North Dakota native is expansive, and his analysis extends well beyond the superfluous, rudimentary and saccharine spectrum of teen-oriented television or the arguments over the coolness of certain musicians and the reverberations of rock music today.

Klosterman also occasionally writes for ESPN.
His mastery of sports knowledge and its inclusion in the social and cultural paradigm is evident through his writing. He can construct certain cultural tastes based on whether or not a person rooted for the traditional Boston Celtics or the entertaining Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s. For example, in terms of rap music, if one is a Lakers’ fan he or she is likely to support Ice Cube and NWA, but the Celtics enthusiasts are likely bob their heads to Eminem, “the only white guy who can keep up.”

Klosterman divides “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” creatively and fittingly into a form resembling a CD. Each chapter represents a track with brief interludes of sporadic and philosophical wonderments. In one of the funniest interludes, Klosterman gives his readers 23 questions whose answers determine whether or not they can love another person. To begin, he narrates a certain dilemma, and while it is atypical, one gets the idea Klosterman has done some serious thinking and moral consideration with these topics. One of these moral, pop culture dilemmas include whether or not a person would allow a gorilla to suit up for the Oakland Raiders if they were the general manager. Absurd? Of course. Intelligent and humorous? Absolutely.

Besides this acclaimed manifesto and contributing to the likes of Spin, The New York Times Magazine and G.Q., Klosterman also has written two other books, “Fargo Rock City” and “Killing Yourself to Live.” While these two works may not be as exclusively aimed to dissect the paradigm of popular culture, they match the same off-tangent humor, insightful wit and naturally inquisitive base “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” is so strongly founded upon. Chuck Klosterman rarely seems to become full of the buffet of representations pop culture incessantly offers.

Contemporary Voice: Ian McEwan

A master in controlling time and narrative flow. A sophisticated journalistic style that is unrivaled in the 21st century. A Virginia Woolf-like understanding of daily moments of fate within the public sphere.

While contemporary author Ian McEwan does not limit himself only to these effective literary techniques, he has proven himself to be unobtrusively adept in eliciting empathy and emotion from his readers across the globe.

Born on June 21, 1948, McEwan graduated from the University of Essex with a degree in English Literature and continued his education at the University of East Anglia to pursue a Master of Arts in English Literature. During his post-graduate experience at East Anglia, McEwan discovered the creative, boundless vocation of writing, providing him with the ability to emotionally touch and challenge readers across every ocean.

McEwan’s literary career began appropriately in 1975 with an award-winning collection of short stores called First Love, Last Rites. The author’s success has only continued to increase 30 years later. In 1997, McEwan welcomed critical acclaim to his first novel, Enduring Love, and one year later, his novella Amsterdam received the prestigious Booker Prize for contemporary literature.

McEwan also received critical and popular praise in 2001 for his well-crafted and multi-perspective novel Atonement.
Set in the 1930s, McEwan uses a girl aspiring to become a renowned author as his protagonist and, in doing so, explores the difficulty in separating reality from fiction and the muddled consequences in confusing the two. Like famous author Virginia Woolf, McEwan changes narrators, only without the stream-of-consciousness effect Woolf famously utilized.

His latest work has solidified McEwan as one of the most respected and talented contemporary writers. As the winner of the 2005 James Tait Black Award, Saturday resembles Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in its setting and sense of weary anticipation toward the uncontrollable. Saturday follows neurosurgeon Henry Perowne during one day in 2003, with the unfortunate, catastrophic events of Sept. 11 still lingering in the rearview mirror of McEwan’s novel. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, McEwan has frequently spoken about the global consequences of the attacks, the developing fear of future attacks and the lack of morality and empathy in the zealous religious fundamentalists.

As a self-proclaimed atheist who subtly resembles an agnostic at times, McEwan claims morality derives from the ability to empathize and the power of imagination, rather than a set of supreme laws from what he calls sky gods.

Though he may have involuntarily received the role of the post-Sept. 11 literary voice, McEwan is a writer both readers and literary critics can rely upon for engaging plots, interesting developments and human characters, complete with character insufficiencies and admirable virtues.

His works have already entered the chalkboard-covered walls of many classrooms in both Europe and America, and many of McEwan’s writings will surely find a permanent place in the future academic canon of English literature.

Bridging Cultures: Jhumpa Lahiri

In her first novel The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “Though they are home they are disconcerted by the space, by the uncompromising silence that surrounds them. They still feel somehow in transit, still disconnected from their lives, bound up in an alternate schedule, an intimacy only the four of them share.”

While The Namesake is not the work earning Jhumpa Lahiri her initial critical praise and the coveted Pulitzer Prize, it does specify the major celebrated themes of her writings.

Born in London, England, in 1967, Lahiri grew up in an academic family with Bengali roots; her parents were a teacher and a librarian, respectively. After enrolling at New York City’s Barnard College, the future Pulitzer Prize winner graduated an English major in 1989. Aggressively pursuing post-graduate degrees, Lahiri earned two master’s degrees, Creative Writing and Comparative Studies in Literature and Arts, as well as a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies from Boston University.

After teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design and Boston University, the acclaimed author wrote The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories which invite readers to experience the complications of many Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants in America. Lahiri seamlessly guides her reader in the opening story, “A Temporary Matter,” through the ins-and-outs of an Indian-American couple’s courtship, marriage and the inevitable challenges the union brings. In the final story, The Third and Final Continent, she intimately plugs her reader into the budding life of a newly immigrated academic in America.

Lahiri’s unique subjects and distinctive perspectives quickly brought rewards: The Interpreter of Maladies received numerous critical accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize and the 1999 O. Henry Award for her story “The Interpreter of Maladies.”

Lahiri’s highly-anticipated second book was her first novel. Appropriately titled The Namesake, it explores cultural identity, social adaptation and the tension between tradition and youth. The reader witnesses the maturation of Gogol, an American-born Bengali, and his struggle with his familial history and the exciting, luring American culture. Filled with the symbolic disgust of Gogol’s own name and the subtle, but present moments of confinement, Lahiri again has granted her audience an entertaining, culturally relevant and artistically-written and structured piece of writing. The Namesake recently was adapted into a screenplay, opening in theatres by November 2006.

With two best-selling works, Lahiri clearly has emerged as an up-and-coming talent and a young, authoritative voice of the multicultural American. In a March 6, 2006, Newsweek article, Lahiri admittedly professes “like many immigrant offspring I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen.”

While Lahiri proclaims she often feels torn between the modern and traditional world, the literary world has shown absolutely no signs of being torn about the young talent who continues to provide readers with a significant glimpse into the personal development of a diversifying America.