Reading notes: The Nineties

Klosterman has a wonderful eye for what things actually felt like, what actually mattered, and where to find retrospective amusement. The Nineties is both great fun and intellectually nourishing.

  1. The book I wanted was a sort of sequel to But What if We're Wrong?. And that's the book I take myself to have gotten. I value Klosterman more as a theorist of collective memory and psychology than as a cultural critic in the more narrow sense of someone who, e.g., extracts interesting meanings from That '70s Show. Klosterman does have lovely insights about That '70s Show, Liz Phair, Zima, and so on. But--for me, at least--that's not where his comparative advantage is.
  2. There's a Klosterman technique of rolling out an obscure academic study at a moment when he has prepared the reader to accept it as authoritative or at least plausible. That technique is, to my eye, less effective in this book than in But What if We're Wrong?. (Still fun, though!)
  3. I was a bit hesitant to read this book at all: I cherish the nineties and don't want to scribble Klosterman all over my childhood memories. But the alternative, not reading about the nineties, is yet worse! To my relief and slight disappointment, Klosterman's perspective is extremely GenX.
  4. Relatedly: his main analytical subject sometimes appears to be GenX, and sometimes the great mainstream from which GenX was intellectually rebelling. He gets into the complexities of distinguishing these, but it's still sometimes not clear which he's talking about (e.g., with his "nobody cared" refrain).
  5. The claims Klosterman makes are uneven in their persuasiveness and justification. (Some claims about, e.g., macroeconomics and the history of the Supreme Court are somewhere between shaky and embarrassing.) Arguably this made my reading experience better; it helps the reader stay in a very active frame of mind. (I was reminded of a 3blue1brown video where he promised at the beginning that he would make at least one mistake in the hour.)
  6. The index of the book is a wonderful study guide for an imaginary final exam.

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