Reviewed by Jon Williams
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
by Wil Wheaton
2007, ISBN 0-9741160-2-5, $15.00, 136 pages
Wil Wheaton is perhaps best known as the actor that played Wesley Crusher on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. He currently writes for his own blog, http://wilwheaton.typepad.com, and writes a weekly column Geek in Review for the website Suicide Girls. This is his third book.
To a certain extent, it is difficult for me to be objective about this book. Wil and I are only five months apart in age and, with the notable exception of him being a TV star, our lives have remarkable parallels to each other.
I’ve been reading his blog for so long now that calling him Wheaton, or Mr. Wheaton is just as odd as trying to call my junior high teachers by their first names now that I’ve grown. From that standpoint, The Happiest Days of Our Lives reads for me less as an autobiography than as stories being swapped over beers by a couple of old friends remembering the Good Old Days. The Happiest Days of Our Lives is a collection of short, autobiographical essays, ranging from the horrors of being a young geek going to school in the 80’s to the joys of being a parent to the challenges of being both a kid and an actor on a popular television series. Most of the stories are simple snapshots of daily life, such as “Blue Light Special”, wherein Wil recalls the epic struggle of choosing which Star Wars toy to buy with his limited allowance, or “Suddenly It’s Tomorrow”, which recounts Wil taking his wife and kids on a 5k charity run.
Frequently, I found myself smiling at memories of my own that reading this book evoked. Ah, yes, I remember the weekend-long Dungeons and Dragons marathons with my fellow geeks. I, too, grin like an idiot at the thought of my fictional relationship with the cute girl in 10th Grade that didn’t even know my name. There are few geeks our age that don’t flinch in terror recalling the institutionalized bullying that is dodgeball, with the flying, red-rubber spheres of shame.
Wil’s writing style is very easy-going, almost conversational. He is a master
storyteller who takes the ordinary aspects of all our lives, wraps them in nostalgia, and sets them on a dusty shelf in the sun to fill the room with rainbows.
The nostalgia, however, is one of the small weaknesses of this book. While not over the edge, the combination of nostalgia and optimism could get overwhelming in a longer book. Even in the unhappiest of memories, Wil finds elements of hope and beauty.
The other issue is that there is a presumption of shared heritage throughout. While this was not a problem for me, since I am familiar with nearly all of the musical, cinematic, and role-playing aspects in the book, he makes no effort to define the geek jargon for outsiders. I doubt this will be enough to put non-geeks off of reading this book, but I suspect that it will limit the books audience.
In the end, this is an enjoyable book, filled with charming stories. For geeks that came of age playing with Star Wars figures and running around with a bag of dice in their pocket, this book is a portal in time that will transport you back to your own happiest days so convincingly that you’ll be able to smell the crayon on your freshly-colored d20 and hear the piong of the Voit ball rebounding off your face.