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ASK AWAY

Who wouldn’t want to play Truth or Dare with complete strangers? Surely it would be a revealing, if not raucous, experience. Well that’s Ask Roulette, minus the dare part. In this series, which is also a podcast, audience members must answer a question, and it could be anything, before they are permitted to choose a victim and pry for themselves. This edition’s special guests include pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman, already a proven master at this type of thing with his signature “hypertheticals,” many of which involve sprawling, horrific scenarios. He’s joined by WBAI’s Jay Smooth, and other interesting thinkers.

Tue., May 27, 8 p.m., 2014

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CELEBRATE BOOK-LYN

Brooklyn might be one of the only places left where one can refer to the “literary scene” without sounding nostalgic, sarcastic, or in the least bit gratuitous. Rather, with a constantly developing roster of readings, salons, and magazine launch parties, our already thoroughly bookish residents are part of a lively community. So it’s no surprise that the Brooklyn Book Festival is now the largest free book event in New York City. Today, hundreds of authors from around the world will do the panel thing in a dozen locations throughout the borough. Highlights include cultural critics Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield dissecting “Love, Villainy, Ethics, and Karaoke,” and Sam Lipsyte and Susan Choi in “Let’s Talk About (Writing) Sex.” Tom Wolfe discusses “Idols, Gods, and Kings,” sporting a suit we wager is just as regal. If one jam-packed day isn’t enough, check out the even longer list of “Bookend Events” happening earlier this week.

Mon., Sept. 16, 10 a.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 10 a.m., 2013

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MEN IN BLACK

Chuck Klosterman wants to know why the prototypical villain is a man in a black hat, mustache curled, probably in the process of tying a woman to train tracks. Sloane Crosley just wants cake. This should make for some interesting conversation. To celebrate the release of his new essay collection, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), Klosterman takes part in the Word for Word lunchtime series. The pop culture critic rose to prominence with 2003’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs as well as one bold Coldplay burn. Now, several books and several more essays later, he’s exploring our society’s most memorable antagonists—namely, Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson, the entire Oakland Raiders franchise, and the writers of Girls. Crosley, the personal essayist behind I Was Told There’d Be Cake (2008), hosts the reading and discussion.

Wed., Aug. 7, 12:30 p.m., 2013

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In I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman is as Calculating and Sharp as Ever

In an essay from his 2009 collection, Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman reasons that because most television laugh tracks are stock recordings, many of which were made decades ago, when we watch our favorite sitcoms, we can be “100 percent confident that somebody chuckling in the background is six feet under.”

For those who know it, this unseemly aside has likely transformed every episode of sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother into a veritable horror show. But it also confirms this: Klosterman is at his best and funniest when revealing the sinister hidden in plain sight. Occultist Aleister Crowley on the front of Sgt. Pepper’s or satanist Anton LaVey on the back of Hotel California—the sort of things that freak us out a bit more than they reasonably should.

This is why his newest collection, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), so often feels like Klosterman in his element. In a dozen essays, and with his signature borderline-neurotic analysis of pop culture, he makes a point to approach the reproachable, taking on a range of villains such as Ted Bundy and Hitler, as well as your more run-of-the-mill assholes (see the passage on Newt Gingrich’s “liberal” child labor laws and proposed colonization of the moon).

The most compelling essays nod to the public’s hypocrisy when it comes to a hero/villain dichotomy. This is, after all, a collection that dives right in with an explanation of why Machiavelli was not really Machiavellian at all.

In “Easier Than Typing,” Klosterman makes the case that, whether he’s a singing Adam West or stony Christian Bale, most people accept Batman as a superhero, but would never condone vigilantism, especially at the hands of a squirrel-obsessed recluse like Bernhard Goetz. Similarly, he explores why fictional drug-dealers like Stringer Bell, Walter White, and Nancy Botwin became protagonists of their respective TV series.

The two most complex critiques in the collection concern the two most publicized scandals of the ’90s, although Klosterman has perhaps put enough time between us and the unpleasantness, because his hierarchy of culpability in the Lewinsky scandal feels like a fresh angle, and he makes a potent case for why the existence of O.J. Simpson’s 2007 autobiography, If I Did It, is “deeply, vastly, hysterically underrated.” It’s not until he turns to recent subject matter, as in the 2011 Arizona shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, that the villains begin to seem like a palpable threat, lurking perilously close to our own cultural home.

But make no mistake, Klosterman is as calculating and sharp as ever. While his own experience—such as the epiphany of listening to Straight Outta Compton for the first time in a North Dakota college dorm—often sets the arguments in play, his feelings on culture are rarely allowed to muck up the text with personal preference before they’re swiftly wrangled and dissected (with the notable exception of one meticulously kept list of all the bands he’s ever hated from 1984 to the present). Ultimately, these essays make for enjoyable intellectual candy—they exhibit a masterful ability to objectively critique deplorable personalities, even when the personality is Perez Hilton’s.

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Rebellious Reads: 5 Book Events You Don’t Want To Miss

“Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic”
The National Arts Club
Mar. 13, 6:30, Free
If you actually expend thought on something like the excessive (still developing) ado over Anne Hathaway’s Oscar dress, it’s true that Katherine Hepburn begins to appear very rebellious indeed. Today the film legend might embody the concept of “classic” style, but during the height of her career she maintained a relaxed control of her personal appearance that has been described as “insouciant,” or as it amounted to, pretty darn badass. Hepburn helped change the image of the modern woman, using tailored, masculine suits to define her athleticism and independence, not to mention wearing trousers (!) in public (!) before that kind of thing was even allowed, socially speaking. Tonight The Fashion Committee celebrates the release of Jean Druesdow’s book of essays Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic (Rizzoli) with an author appearance and screening of Adam’s Rib–the 1949 comedy in which Hepburn plays an attorney opposite her 26-year-long secret love affair Spencer Tracy. Hepburnesque fashions are highly encouraged, so break out those pantsuits and Ferragamo flats.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudúlph
Bluestockings Bookstore
Mar. 13, 7pm, Free
With regular postings like “The Cosby Show: One of the Most Feminist Shows of All Time?” and “Leave Beyonce, Lena, and Rihanna Alone Already,” sexyfeminist.com is a go-to blog for third wavers who love shoe shopping and housewife-centric reality shows but hate the gnawing, gender-betraying guilt associated with such. In Sexy Feminism (Mariner Books), founders Armstrong and Rudúlph take on the tough questions. How does one justify the ideological/very actual pain of a bikini wax? Should Lady Gaga just put on some pants for chrissakes? Through some, if choice-y, historical background, they offer tips on how to progressively reclaim and re-appropriate lipstick, cooking, stay-at-home momism…um…knitting on the subway, you know, that sort of thing. Tonight they will discuss and debate the finer points, as well as why feminists are “allowed” or “not allowed” to like some things in the first place.

Richard Hell
Barnes & Noble Union Square
Mar. 14, 7pm, Free
In terms of the enormously popular genre of punk-era autobiographies (over which Patti Smith currently reigns high mother), we’re frankly surprised this one didn’t happen sooner. As the ultimate scenester on the Bowery, Richard Hell née Meyers was the essential grimy link that connected a smattering of young icons drifting through the doors of CBGB. In I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (Ecco), he talks candidly about his painfully average American childhood and compulsion to run away to New York. Once there it became clear that he had knack for starting up bands–Television, The Heartbreakers, and The Voidoids were all notches in his belt–if not sticking with them.While constantly hovering on the fringe of fame, Hell nonetheless provided “Blank Generation,” maybe the definitive anthem of the downtown movement, not to mention an extensive collection of journals purchased and cloistered for a cool $50,000 by the NYU Fales archive. Tonight he’ll read and reminisce about a grittier New York past.

Marc Spitz and Chuck Klosterman
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Mar. 18, 7pm, Free
Speaking of reminiscing, we’re doing that about the ’90s now too–along with Marc Spitz. The rock journalist’s memoir about New York in that other era of artistic renaissance is suggestively titled Poseur (Da Capo), even though Spitz was legitimately in tight with the likes of Courtney Love, Pavement, Rivers Cuomo, and The Strokes. His story is filled with candid dialogue, making it pleasingly novelistic–bildungsromanish–if you will. Spitz has a knack for capturing the scene in cinematic detail: the first time he heard Nirvana, his raging heroin addiction, an eventual foray into playwriting and a nod to the (still in tact) awesomeness of our very own Alexis Soloski. Fellow cultural critic and author Chuck Klosterman will join him to discuss the last time downtown New York still felt dangerous.

Rebecca Miller and Jonathan Galassi
McNally Jackson
Mar. 18, 7pm, Free
Kafka did this same kind of absurdist stuff in The Metamorphosis, but we’re pretty sure his editor gave him a hard time about it too. The title character of Rebecca Miller’s new novel Jacob’s Folly (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a down and out Jewish peddler in eighteenth century Paris, struggling to rebuild his life after an arranged marriage gone awry. But wait: there’s more. After Jacob reaches an untimely demise at age 31, he awakes, present day, reincarnated as a fly in a Long Island suburb. He also has the power to read and like, incept, thoughts–which he uses to help a volunteer firefighter whose life is fraught with tragedy and a young actress with a heart condition. Miller’s background in film adaptation probably accounts for the grand cinematic scope, spanning from (a literal) fly-on-the-wall account to a sweeping family narrative spanning centuries. She’ll sit down with her editor Jonathan Galassi and discuss how they pulled off a coming-of-age tale in which the protagonist is more often than not an insect.

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David Shields’ How Literature Saved My Life Successfully Murders the Novel

David Shields did it, again. He killed the novel.

But it’s less painful than it sounds. In How Literature Saves My Life, his eleventh book and first since the controversial 2010 hit Reality Hunger, Shields convincingly reminds us why novels aren’t what they once were and why we should stop being seduced by fiction.

Reality Hunger was a provocative manifesto that dug into the decline of the novel and called for the creation of a new form—one that didn’t distinguish between nonfiction and fiction, memoir and narrative, authenticity and plagiarism. Chuck Klosterman said it “might be the most intense, thought-accelerating book of the last 10 years.” Jonathan Safran Foer called it “more than thought-provoking” and “one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time.” Meanwhile, it had a lot of people up in arms. As the novelist Blake Morrison put it in the Guardian, “Shields sells fiction short.” On Salon, Laura Miller dealt some blows: “The novel is dead to him, but so what? Can’t he just go off and write whatever he wants to write without climbing up on a soapbox to make a speech about it? How does this offbeat preference of his merit a book-length manifesto? Why does this book exist?”

How Literature Saved My Life picks up, in many ways, where Reality Hunger left off. “Some people seemed to think I was the Antichrist because I didn’t genuflect at the twin alters of the novel and intellectual property […] I became, briefly, the poster boy for The Death of the Novel and The End of Copyright,” he writes in the new book. Shields, however, doesn’t take that as a bad thing. He defends himself and continues to make a compelling and sometimes rattling case against what we think about fiction. It’s radical (especially the parts on plagiarism and the obsolescence of the novel), and you may not agree with much of what he’s saying. But he gives you enough to chew on to make you realize that he has a point: He convinces you that you’re still really hungry for reality.

The book is quintessential genre-defying Shields. You could call it a memoir or a lyric essay or unorthodox criticism or some other variety of creative nonfiction. The fact that the book is so hard to classify is its very point. As Shields puts it, “I love that feeling of being caught between floors of a difficult-to-define department store”—a.k.a. book. His writing gives you that sense of vertigo. It’s energizing and weird, and it works.

A lot fits between the floors of How Literature Saved My Life. Quotes from Tolstoy, Ice T, David Foster Wallace, and Burt Reynolds—yes, Burt Reynolds—on the meaning of life, or its meaninglessness. What Shields thinks he has in common with George W. Bush. Why the work of “handsome male writers” and ugly ones is different. Being a conscientious objector during Vietnam. The American obsession with being “fine.” Stories about the radio personality Delilah. A cringe-worthy account of a failed relationship during his sophomore year at Brown. Reflections on writers ranging from Maggie Nelson to Proust to Jonathon Lethem to Renata Adler to Geoff Dyer… the list goes on and on. This is a book about literature after all—well, sort of.

More than anything else, How Literature Saved My Life is about Shields: It’s a portrait of a writer vigorously bashing his head against the world of words, trying to figure out where the words end and the world begins. He is hardly afraid of using rhetorical questions and making big universal statements to make his point; but he lays off before verging on the didactic or grandiose. Shields brings his own life into the text with biting, funny, and sometimes brutal self-awareness; and that openness— in addition to his mix of the low with high culture— brings the book down to earth. And this distance between lived life and literature is what Shields is trying to break down. That’s the question at the heart of How Literature Saved My Life. Where is the line between real life and art?

Hint: there isn’t one, or shouldn’t be. For Shields, the basis to good art, or any art at all, is in editing whatever happens to you and making art out of it. “Isn’t this what all writing is, more or less—taking the raw data of the world and editing it, framing it, thematizing it, running your voice and vision over it?” Edited life = art.
But with this idea of life as art, Shields, in a typical self-reflective rhetorical turn inward, gives us a sort of warning. “The question I’ve been trying to ask all along. Do I love art anymore, or only artfully arranged life?” The question goes unanswered and it sticks with you—maybe the subject of Shields’ next book.

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SLAM DUNK

Doesn’t it feel like ages ago when we all had Linsanity and bowed down to the Giants after they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl (again!)? Tonight, relive those warm, fuzzy memories and more when Grantland Quarterly, published by McSweeney’s, launches its third collection of the best, most insightful sports writing from grantland.com, the site ESPN launched last summer with editor Bill Simmons at the helm. A quarterly that’s indispensable for the sports fan who reads Harper’s at halftime, Grantland offers stories from Chuck Klosterman, Jonah Lehrer, Katie Baker, Molly Lambert, and the always thought-provoking Kenny Powers of Eastbound & Down. For tonight’s sure-to-be-packed launch party at BookCourt, catch readings from Klosterman, Amos Barshad, Rembert Browne, and Andy Greenwald. As Powers would say, “You’re welcome.”

Thu., July 26, 7 p.m., 2012

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James Murphy and Shut Up and Play the Hits Reflect on the End of LCD Soundsystem

“When we started the band, suddenly we were, like, New York famous. We could get into anyplace, but you know—I was never recognized on a plane.”

James Murphy, former frontman of self-reflexive post-punk dance band LCD Soundsystem, has called to talk about Shut Up and Play the Hits, a new film documenting LCD’s sold-out April 2011 farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. He’s attempting to explain why he chose to call it quits on a band that, 10 years after the landmark first single “Losing My Edge,” was indisputably at the peak of its success. In addition to the predictable ubiquity in Silver Lake and Williamsburg, LCD’s third and final full-length, This Is Happening, had debuted in the overall Billboard Top 10 and displaced Lady Gaga at the top of the dance chart. Anna Kendrick starred in one video; Spike Jonze directed another. The higher profile was part of the problem.

“I felt the band getting bigger, but I was always like, well, it doesn’t matter when I can come back to New York, where nobody gives a shit. And then I came back to New York, and people started giving more of a shit, so I was at the beginning of me not wanting, um . . .”

Murphy, chatting while en route to his home in Brooklyn, interrupts himself. “I’m looking out of my car, up at Terry Richardson having an animated conversation through a window,” he says. “He’s flailing his arms a lot. He’s looking at me.” The legendarily sleazy photographer, Murphy suggests, is the epitome of “New York famous”—a household name in enough households to improve his standard of living without impinging on his actual life. “I wasn’t that interested in actual famous-people fame, you know what I mean?”

Murphy has never been a typical rock star, and Shut Up is by no means a conventional rock doc. Co-directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace condense the four-hour, 29-song MSG show into a few full performances of “hits” like “North American Scum,” “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down,” and “I Can Change,” interwoven with excerpts from an interview with Murphy conducted a week before the show by pop-culture pundit Chuck Klosterman and vérité footage of Murphy shot the morning after MSG, tracing his first day as a 41-year-old rock-and-roll “retiree.” Moments of onstage transcendence are sandwiched between Murphy’s preshow contemplations of pretension and rock-star mythology and postshow evidence of life going on at its most mundane. Talking to Klosterman, Murphy marvels that even the most superhuman pop star “is just a dude. He has to check his e-mail.” The morning after his triumphant goodbye show, Murphy still has to get out of bed to walk the dog.

“We were very deliberate about the day after being the perspective from which we view the story,” Southern says. “You have this huge show at this iconic venue, and it’s a kind of euphoric event. And the best position to look at some of the reasons why you would end the band and what that would feel like the day after—the sobriety of the next morning and the fact that nothing really happens.”

“I wanted it to be about what it’s like when you make things,” Murphy says. “The band, the movie—everything in some way is always about what it feels like to make something, the actualities. Not the myth of being a maker.”

Lovelace and Southern’s approach allows them to expose the psyche of a man walking away from fame while contextualizing how that move fits into Murphy’s ongoing personal conflict between his interest in highbrow and/or obscure art, music, and literature and his compulsion to make music that makes people want to dance. The coexistence of serious ideas and genuine emotion in party songs with often hilarious lyrics—that’s LCD Soundsystem in a nutshell.

Lovelace and Southern use the phrase “end of an era” to describe the significance of LCD’s demise, which Murphy rejects—”I can’t pinpoint what the era is.” Whatever it is, Murphy seems to have been pointing to the end all along. In a reflection of the times that spawned it, LCD earned its stripes in hipster culture in part by brilliantly and affectionately skewering that culture through songs like “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” and “Losing My Edge.” In Shut Up, Klosterman begins to suggest that “Edge,” a spoken-word dance track in the voice of an aging scenester, is essentially a novelty song. “That song’s serious as a heart attack,” Murphy argues, likening the experiences that inspired it to “a sad, hipster DJ Revolutionary Road.”

“Audiences had changed, the way people consume music had changed, and I think James was kind of one of the first people to catch on to that,” Southern says. “‘Losing My Edge’ is the song I think they’ll be remembered for. I think it must be a strange thing to have done that in your first record. That’s a hard one to follow up.”

Eleven years after first forecasting his own obsolescence, those changes in cultural consumption are still on Murphy’s mind. Record stores, he says, were replaced with online affinity groups amounting to “People Who Agree With Me dot com. A record store, you go in, and you’re faced with, like, the gauntlet. There [were] defining queries that you put yourself through, which are missing now. Now you just get told you’re awesome all the time, and if someone tells you you’re not awesome, you just unfriend them.”

In the film and in conversation, Murphy is ever aware of his comparatively advanced age. At its most basic level, his rejection of the rock-and-roll lifestyle is a question of self-preservation. Every time he tours, Murphy says in the film, he returns with markedly more gray hair. “That’s the visible sign,” he says. “What’s going on inside? I don’t want to, like, die.” He pauses a beat, then says more firmly, “I don’t want to die!”

“Health is a big reason [to end LCD],” Murphy says today. “Life is a big reason. I didn’t live a normal life for a long time. I toured and made records and toured and made records. I didn’t want to be stuck being in a professional band and not having a life.”

Not that he has exactly been a homebody since the days chronicled in the film. He went to Sundance to promote this movie and another, The Comedy, in which he acts. He went to London to work on the Shut Up sound mix. He has myriad projects in some state of development, including a boutique in Brooklyn and a disco-themed exhibit at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, scheduled to open in fall of 2013. “I don’t know quite what my role is,” Murphy admits. He adds dryly, “I can’t compare it to my previous curatorial work.”

In Shut Up‘s morning after, Murphy notes that he feels “disturbingly normal”—he hasn’t had time to process. And now that he has had a year?

“Nothing is out of whack from my experience of being in LCD Soundsystem,” Murphy says. “Yet, when I go make a record that’s not an LCD Soundsystem record, that’s gonna be weird.”

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CULTURE SHOCK

Starting at Chicago’s the Hideout, the Interview Show brought together talented figures—including musicians and community organizers—to a quaint setting where they could tell stories and hear from the audience. Now, the event has a new home: Park Slope. The third edition of the show this week, hosted by the comical columnist Mark Bazer, has a literary theme. Guests will include Jon Glaser, the creator/writer/producer of Delocated! and writer of My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top; Chuck Klosterman, music writer and author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and Fargo Rock City; and Em & Lo, the erotic authors of Sex: How to Do Everything. Music will be provided by the group Nova Social as Bazer talks culture with the participants.

Thu., May 3, 8 p.m., 2012

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WHAT A TRIP

“Very soon, I knew we would both be completely twisted. But there was no going back and no time to rest,” wrote gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson 40 years ago in his psychedelic masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The novel, based on real events, follows Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, a deranged lawyer, as they go on a drug and alcohol-fueled binge in Las Vegas, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Tonight, hop the train to crazytown, where “freedom doesn’t die unless it is used,” and listen to actor Scott Shepard (Elevator Repair Service), Michael Imperioli (of The Sopranos), and Anthony Rapp (Rent) read excerpts from the book. Pop-culture writer Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) will also be on hand to speak on how Thompson’s work has influenced his own writing.

Wed., March 16, 7 p.m., 2011