I make it a habit of avoiding memoirs published by men in their 30s, so never got around to reading Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek, despite it seeming squarely in my wheelhouse. Reading this annotated version drove home to me how wise that policy continues to be, despite the many interests the author and I share, including but not limited to Star Trek, sci-fi, acting, blogging, tabletop games and parenting.
The trouble with the vast, vast majority of autobiographies written by men in their 30s is that the authors cannot properly view the trauma they’ve undergone — which is what largely compels men like these to write these books at this stage in their lives — without managing to sound both trite and obliviously self-important. The luckiest of these authors at least have an inkling of how much therapy they still need, but almost none of them realize that time (at the very least, and even without the benefit of actively working on your spiritual/emotional well-being) almost always grants a very necessary perspective. Mr Wheaton was, unfortunately, no different. I can absolutely see why Entertainment Weekly succinctly if harshly called the original book whiny. There’s a lot of unprocessed trauma on display and a lot of attempts at edginess that just come off as douchebaggery.
So it’s a fascinating enterprise to see Mr Wheaton tackle his book once more almost two decades later. His annotations are almost all correct, both in exploring the deeper truth behind what he said at the very turn of the 21st century and in apologizing for unfortunate language and narrative choices, with one caveat: I do think that he’s actually a little too hard on his younger self, particularly in his adoption of projected optimism as a coping mechanism. Sure, he says now that the confident pronouncements that he made back then were in service to placating the “Prove Everyone Wrong” voice in his head, but there’s still value in making positive affirmations about yourself and your goals, and it seems weird to kick his younger self over what was essentially a helpful, if not outright necessary, way to deal with life’s disappointments.
That said, wow, it’s so much better reading this book from the perspective of a dude who’s about to turn fifty. I mean, the covers alone evoke the wildly differing atmospheres: the original was incredibly emo while the present version is far more self-deprecating and self-aware. Which isn’t at all to say that Mr Wheaton was a bad person when he was younger, or that the angry, self-absorbed essays he wrote at that time have no worth. As a historical snapshot, they’re actually a really great look into that era of celebrity and the Internet; as reading material tho, they are 100% Not My Thing. And that’s fine: not every book is for everybody. I’m just glad that I came to this version at this age, so I can gain a newfound appreciation for Mr Wheaton instead of being all “JFC, this is what happened to the guy who played Wesley?”
Because the Wil Wheaton of recent years can see past the anger and assumptions of his younger self to the scared, sad kid behind the words. He and I don’t necessarily have the same perspectives on everything, but I very much valued his present-day thoughts on abuse and mental health and the importance of education and kindness (and greatly appreciate his commitment to good parenting throughout.) The only thing that really stuck out to me was the fact that no one seems to have pointed out to him that his Dad’s bullying likely stemmed from an insecurity at no longer being the family’s main breadwinner. Which doesn’t excuse Dad’s really shitty behavior, but definitely makes his abuse and his clear preference for the younger brother seem less inexplicable, IMO.
Overall, this was the kind of chronicle that rarely makes its way out of nonfiction: honest and thoughtful, if occasionally uncomfortable for everyone involved. There were parts reading the older version that I thoroughly understood the popularity of the “shut up, Wesley” catchphrase, but I do think that Mr Wheaton has grown to be the kind of good, genuine person that he always thought of himself as being (and hopefully continues to work on being.) It was also really nice to learn that the main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation get along so well, both then and now. As fun and salacious as it can be to read about backstabbing primi, it’s really so much more affirming to read of nurturing and warmth in action.
I do recommend getting this book in physical format tho. I’m sure the digital versions will be properly formatted, but I was forced to read this as a sideways pdf on my phone, which had me absolutely seething. Extra irony points for Mr Wheaton being a champion of digital liberty — not that the formatting was in any way his fault. Sometimes, profit-focused goons screw all us creatives over.
Still Just A Geek: An Annotated Collection Of Musings by Wil Wheaton was published April 12 2022 by William Morrow & Company and is available from all good booksellers, including