I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

Cover of I Wear the Black HatWhen you’re very young, the character you love most is Luke Skywalker (who’s entirely good). As you grow older, you gravitate toward Han Solo (who’s ultimately good, but superficially bad). But by the time you reach adulthood, and when you hit the point in your life where Star Wars starts to seem like what it actually is (a better-than-average space opera containing one iconic idea), you inevitably find yourself relating to Darth Vader. As an adult, Vader is easily the most intriguing character, and seemingly the only essential one.

–Chuck Klosterman on Star Wars and growing up.

This summer I read Chuck Klosterman’s, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined). It’s an off-centered, philosophical, and hysterical approach to understanding villains in society. I’ll admit I’m new to Klosterman’s work as an author but I know he’s a humorist and sort-of a weird guy. Knowing this made me more than interested in hearing what he has to say about “bad guys”. There seems to be a moment, let’s say when a person reaches their mid-30s, when they reexamine (usually subconsciously) the nature of what is perceived as bad, or even evil. As a suburban middle-class kid I was taught society’s rights and wrongs. This was the basic stuff that is essentially as old as civilization itself. As I got older and turned into one of those mid-30s adults, I’ve abandoned the “this or that,” “black or white,” “always good or always bad” viewpoint. Now I see the fuzzy borders between socially acceptable and morally right. Chuck Klosterman explains in his conversational and amusing way why I may be right.

Some of this book’s critics complain about the author’s apparent inability to stay loyal to his central theme, which is to understand villains. I’ve read his columns and I’ve seen his appearances on some comedy shows (he was even hysterically satirized by The Onion), and my view is Klosterman doesn’t care if he stays on track and his point might be to purposefully stray from it. Klosterman is a postmodernist; he focuses on the method not the result. This book is his way of working out the issues he feels society has with villains or villainous behavior. It can be scattered at times but it reads like a trip through Klosterman’s intellect. Or better, like you’ve sat down at a bar with him and instead of watching the game over his shoulder, you’re in one of the most interesting conversations you’ve ever had (partly because he never stops talking).

Among his many imaginative observations, Klosterman compares the U.S. Constitution to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds because they’re both awesome, yet overrated. Not much more needs to be said why I would recommend this book. Pick it up if you like humor and you want to be tricked into reading something intellectual.

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined). Klosterman, Chuck. New York: Scribner, 2013.

Call # 306.4 Klo Browsing Collection – Level 3

Reviewed by Tom Mullusky.

About Andrea Levandowski

I am the Project Manager for Small Business Development and Technology at the New Jersey State Library. Formerly, I worked as the Reference Librarian for Instruction and Fundraising Information.