I Wear the Black Hat

Author: Chuck Klosterman

Type: Non-fiction, single subject, essays

Full title: I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined)

Published: 2013

I read it: May 2014

i wear the black hat

You don’t read Chuck Klosterman for objectively researched essays with cited sources. Consider each of his short pieces to be elaborate blog posts, and you’re in the right arena. His essays try to connect the dots between pop culture and pop psychology, and even though they are the output of a single man’s opinion, they seem like thorough analyses nonetheless.

I read this one hot off of finishing Eating the Dinosaur because I made the mistake (or serendipitous move) or flipping it open and reading a few lines here and there. But the book is so damn conversational that it’s hard to put down. It’s entertaining enough that you can read it even when exhausted and intellectually engaging enough that you can let your brain dance around the ideas before bed.

This is not a perfect book, and Klosterman can stumble when he focuses on listing various bands he has despised over the years, or when he tries to self-analyze to find out if he himself is a villain. He’s not, because he obviously cares a great deal about his subject matter, and therefore does not fit his own definition of a villain: someone who knows the most but cares the least. This is a useful definition for most of the better villains in the book, from Jerry Sandusky to Bill Clinton to Muhammad Ali. All of these subjects are helpfully illuminated for what they meant during their spotlight hours, and as such this book, at its best, functions as a kind of historical record-keeping of people in the public eye. I was barely a teenager when the Clinton/Lewinsky stuff happened, and Klosterman provides way better insight than my own memory. To my son, Clinton will be a name indistinguishable from Reagan or Roosevelt, so little essays like this are good starting points for researching our collective past.

When he needs to, Klosterman tries to extend his definition to encapsulate its facets, coming up with possibilities like “They hate you because you hate yourself;” “They hate you because you always need to be right;” “They hate you because you went all the way;” “They hate you because you don’t hate anyone, even when you should.” Even though this type of personality analysis is not a science, there is a true urge for understanding here. There’s even an obligatory chapter on Adolf Hitler only because the name is too big to leave out, as much as the author wanted to. Klosterman does a fine job of outlining the stormy, impossible angles involved when it comes to writing about Hitler.

If you don’t mind Klosterman’s ticks and asides, his books are filled with intriguing conversation starters. Who wears the black hat? Plenty of people, but probably not you or me since we want to both know and care.

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