In his new book, “The Nineties,” culture critic and author Chuck Klosterman dissects a somewhat overlooked yet, as he argues, consequential decade when people still had landlines, slacker culture ruled, and 9/11 had yet to unravel the American political scene and psyche. Klosterman, who has written eight other nonfiction books as well as two novels, is a columnist for Esquire and wrote the New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist column for three years. The North Dakota native lives in Portland, Ore., with his family.
BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?
KLOSTERMAN: If you look at my desk, I’m surrounded by books. I’ve read some of all of them, but none of all of them. When I work on a nonfiction project I read things related to what I’m working on, but only to get the information I need. When I write fiction, I don’t read fiction. As a consequence it seems like I never read full books except for the ones I’m asked to blurb. The idea of looking forward to reading a book, that hasn’t happened to me in maybe 20 years. I still buy lots of books. I ordered the new Jonathan Franzen novel but I haven’t even opened the package.
BOOKS: What was the last book you read the whole thing?
KLOSTERMAN: I’m doing this Smithsonian event with Bob Spitz, who has a new biography on Led Zeppelin, so I read that. I also blurbed Kelefa Sanneh’s book, “Major Labels.” They were both were very good and very comprehensive, and then, as a consequence, I felt bad. Any book that seems even slightly better than what I could write seems like a brilliant breakthrough. Any book slightly worse than I can do seems terrible.
BOOKS: What kind of reader were you in the ‘90s?
KLOSTERMAN: I read writers I wanted to write like. First it was Dave Barry, and then in college it was Douglas Copeland. Next it was Raymond Carver. David Foster Wallace with the last one. I was obsessed with his idea of using academic language with things that were legitimately funny.
BOOKS: What kind of reader were you as a kid?
KLOSTERMAN: When I was a little kid, I kept these very old encyclopedias under my bed. There were so old Pluto was not yet discovered in those books. I’d read them over and over. For me, that was reading for pleasure. Reading for information is still reading for pleasure for me.
BOOKS: Would you read music biographies for pleasure?
KLOSTERMAN: I read them when I’m flying. If I’m taking a four-hour flight, I maybe can read the whole book. I’ll read Rod Stewart’s autobiography or Mike Love‘s memoir to get his perspective on the Beach Boys. Jeff Tweedy wrote a very good autobiography, “Let’s Go.” So did Morrissey. What’s interesting about Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles” is that he seemed to write it in the character he has created onstage. Paul Stanley’s “Face the Music” was a pretty good one. He has had a real difficult time reconciling that he was in Kiss. He doesn’t seem to like his own band that much.
BOOKS: Are there any music biographies that aren’t well known that you’d recommend?
KLOSTERMAN: There’s “The Boy Is Gonna Rock,” by Bobby Rock, the drummer in Vinnie Vincent Invasion and then Slaughter. He was never even the most famous member of these relatively not famous bands, but the book is interesting because he went though the ‘80s never drinking or taking drugs so he had a clear view of what happened.
BOOKS: Do you prefer paper or digital for reading?
KLOSTERMAN: I prefer reading soft covers because they are lighter. A hardcover book, I hate to say this because I’m desperately trying to sell as many as possible, is a little like buying a brand-new car that you never want to drive. When I was a kid I couldn’t afford hardbacks. I’d see a book that was new and think, “I’ll read that next year when it’s out in paperback.” Waiting a year for something didn’t seem like that big of a deal when I was in my twenties.
BOOKS: Would you like to change yourself as reader somehow?
KLOSTERMAN: I think there will be a day in 10 or 15 years, where reading a novel is what I did that day. I got up, sat in this rocking chair, had a drink, and read a book. But who knows.