Chuck Klosterman thinks everything is wrong: I'm wrong, you're wrong, and the future will prove this. Probably. Maybe. Or we could be right? Such is the elliptical premise of Klosterman's latest book, But What if We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past, which considers how the people of the future will look back on the time we live in, and learn about the minutiae of our daily lives (spoiler: it involves watching Roseanne).
I've read a LOT of Chuck Klosterman, from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (I put it on the syllabus of a freshman comp class I taught as a graduate student) to his stint as the New York Times magazine's ethicist to now-shuttered Grantland. In college, Klosterman was one of the first writers I encountered who considered low culture worth writing about, before it became deeply trendy to the point of needlessly ubiquitous, and I'd still rather read his thoughts on Mad Men or dinosaurs or conspiracy theories than almost anyone else's. If you're also a Klosterman acolyte (and if you're reading this, you probably are), But What If We're Wrong? delivers what it needs to: the footnotes, the overthinking (and a defense of overthinking), and familiar Klosterman truisms—like the one that states all professional sports games are exhibition games. These familiar hallmarks make reading it like dropping in on an old friend and having an argument over a beer about something that doesn't ultimately matter.
But some things have changed: Klosterman is a dad now! He's also visibly part of an old guard of writers who got famous through the internet AND books, and he worries about sounding like a cranky old man. Sometimes he does! He seems out of his depth in a convoluted section that veers into lit crit. But he turns out to be a surprisingly effective pop-science writer, interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson about the possibility that we live in a multiverse, in which "infinite universes... exist over the expanse of infinite time," full of worlds resembling our own, but with differences both imperceptible (JFK drops a pen, "you are slightly taller") and profound ("Earth exists, but it's ruled by robotic wolves with a hunger for liquid cobalt"). A conversation with filmmaker Richard Linklater about dreams is also incredibly charming.
Though probably best known for his years as a critic at Spin, Klosterman's best writing is in nonfiction books like this one. As an essayist, he's compulsively readable, and though he frequently writes about sad things—2005's Killing Yourself to Live is about basically nothing but breakups and death—he's not a chore to read. His books don't leave you feeling actively worse about the world you live in. This is a heavier lift for But What if We're Wrong?, since its concern isn't a series of celebrity deaths or a specific heartbreak but the eventual demise of every person you know, and any accurate memory of the era we live in. But it's there.
Amid this death spiral, Klosterman also addresses the state of contemporary online writing, decrying emptily contrarian hot-takes and clickbait trash. If that seems weird coming from someone who could arguably be blamed for the existence of think pieces, it shouldn't: One of Klosterman's best qualities as a writer and as a critic has always been his attempt to engage meaningfully with whatever weird shit he's writing about. But What if We're Wrong? isn't a collection of blog posts in print, it's a book that appears to have been edited, something that shouldn't be notable, but is. And that shouldn't surprise anyone who's followed his career. Klosterman's books were always sold in a fun package. But they were never not serious.