If you've ever read Wil Wheaton's blog (clevernickname to us), you know he's not afraid to put everything on the table. One of the things I've always admired about his writing is his willingness to talk about his kids. On the internet. With ... people. Despite the obvious problems that could cause, Wil has been sharing anecdotes about his adventures in parenting since the early days of WWDN. His newest book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, talks about growing up geek and what it means to be a nerd and a father at the same time. Read on for my review.
That the bones of the book's content comes directly from Wil's website shouldn't distract you. Whether you've been a reader all along (and might recognize some of these stories) or not, they've all been expanded and clarified for inclusion in the book. That clarification is something that comes across very strongly in Happiest Days, especially if you have read any of his previous work. Wil has put a great deal of work into the craft of writing over the past few years, and it shows. Some three years have passed since his sophomore effort in Just a Geek, and even more since Dancing Barefoot.
Where once it seemed as though Wil had something to prove in his writing - that he was over showbiz, that he was over Star Trek - Happiest Days is full of simple stories. The day he bought a Lando Calrissian action figure essentially by mistake, a simple outing for ice cream with his sons; they're everyday events but artfully told. In total he has about thirteen short tales in the chapbook-sized novel, ranging from just two pages long to a few dozen.
Some of his most evocative stories (and the reason this review is here) are all about Wil's growth as a nerdling. The most evocative for me was the chapter 'a portrait of the artist as a young geek', which details Wil's introduction to tabletop roleplaying. From his first brush with the infamous 'red box' D&D set at Christmas 1983, to his experience teaching his kids how to roll up characters under the 3.0 rulesset, the story reminds me (and may remind you) of a D6-laden past.
And really, that's what Wil makes this a book about. It's about his own past, his troubles, his triumphs, but in reality this is meant to be a book that reaches out to you as a reader. If you see something of yourself in the kid who agonized in the toy aisle, if you see something of yourself in the dad who argues with his kids over the radio station (and rocks out to 80s synth-pop), then the purpose of the Happiest Days has been fulfilled. Or at least, as I see it.
And, of course, if you like Wil's discussion of Star Trek there's some elements of that there as well. The difference, again, is that instead of pining for Trek itself, Wil reminisces about the impact Trek has had upon him. Great experiences talking like adults with Jonathan Frakes, the chance to speak to Ron Moore backstage at a con, and the recording of a documentary are what makes for stories from Wil in the here and now.
Probably the book's strongest element is also its biggest drawback. Wil's vicious editing and strong prose makes for an incredibly short book. The amount of story and emotion packed into the bare 136 pages is impressive. But ... it's still just 136 pages. And for $20, that seems a bit steep. For me, though, it was worth it to support an author that's been a pleasure to watch grow over the last several years. From blogger to published writer, Wil Wheaton's journey is laid out in miniature in the pages of Happiest Days. With the sour taste of Just a Geek washed out of his mouth, my hope is that we'll see more long-form work from Wheaton in the future. In the meantime this is a worthy 'sequel' to Dancing Barefoot, and well worth a look by fans of the well-placed word.
You can purchase The Happiest Days of Our Lives from Monolith Press. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.