Just read: Chuck Klosterman's 'I Wear The Black Hat'

"Just read" is a blog where I blog about something I just read. I'm trying to read more this year and I'd like to keep a record of that; blogging will theoretically help that cause. 


This statement may be extremely obvious, but also the most accurate, summation of Chuck Klosterman's I Wear The Black Hat: It's a book that's written by Chuck Klosterman. So if you've read his work previously, you know what you're going to get. This is the first Klosterman book I've read, but I've ingested enough of his writing in other formats to have an idea of what I was diving into. 

I Wear The Black Hat is a collection of essays / rants / ramblings with a general backdrop of villainy, and exploring how we observe and remember villains. Klosterman uses this curtain of villainy to generally write about totally unrelated topics from one chapter to another, and frequently jumps around semi-unrelated ideas within single essays. Featured characters include Kanye, LeBron, Darth Vader, Perez Hilton, Kim Dotcom, Batman, this guy, O.J. Simpson (who is dissected alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and many more (including Hitler, who Klosterman acknowledges is included in the book mostly out of obligation). 

It can be hard to stay focused when you're reading a guy like Klosterman, whose all-over-the-place style is both a strength and a weakness when applied to a book-length piece of work. I really think I would have enjoyed Black Hat more if I had read it more as a series of essays: read a chapter now, put the book down, come back to the next one later that day or in a couple days, whatever. The thesis is so simple, and repeated often enough, that buffering some time between chapters doesn't cost you anything. This thesis is, "The villain is the person who knows the most and cares the least," which Klosterman argues applies to every single villain in his book with the exception of Hitler, who cared too much and didn't really know a ton. I'd recommend this fashion of reading this book to anyone who picks up I Wear The Black Hat, especially if it's their first Klosterman book.

The best essays, or excerpts from essays, come when Klosterman addresses either a pop culture icon (like Kim Dotcom or Perez Hilton) or a sports star (like Simpson or Abdul-Jabbar). It's obvious enough that his greatest comforts lie in writing about these fields, and it's not surprising that his best work is produced from his most comfortable areas. The essay about Simpson and Abdul-Jabbar is the most memorable to me, but also memorable is the way Klosterman consistently brings his points back around to be about himself. A loose theme is that Klosterman is the villain in his own story, which I don't really buy, though I do appreciate the thought exercise it triggers. It actually made me more self-aware of my own actions in a fairly significant way.  

This quote sticks out to me; it's early on in the story, and it addresses the idea of villainy versus the actual concept of a person being evil or villainous:  

I care about strangers when they're abstractions but feel almost nothing when they are literally in front of me. They seem like unnamed characters in a poorly written novel about myself, which was poorly written by me. 

It's much easier, especially in the age of social media, to get upset or react to the thought of a thing more than the thing itself.  

All in all, I likely won't return to I Wear The Black Hat anytime soon, but the book was interesting enough to get me on board with the idea of reading more of Klosterman's work. I think I'll go toward the opposite end of his spectrum and check out Fargo Rock City or Killing Yourself To Live next.

I Wear The Black Hat is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books.