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Book Reviewing: A Contact Sport

April 14, 2009

Sunken Treasure: Wil Wheaton’s Hot Cocoa Box Sampler
Wil Wheaton
Monolith Press April 2009
90 pages $13.00, paperback ($5.00 download)

When I started reading this, I walked right into a mailbox.   Whack!  Okay, backstory.  I’d been wanting to read it for a while, met up with Mr. Unhipster and borrowed his copy, but then had to scurry off to The Day Job.  Except I really wanted to start reading the second I got it.

So I engaged in the risky, but usually navigable, exercise of reading while walking to the subway.

Cue the mailbox.  Thunk!  Rubbing bruised legs and slightly sprained dignity, I slipped Sunken Treasure into a pocket, and continued on my somewhat more alert way to work.

What does this tale of reading-as-contact sport have to do with my review of the actual text?  Maybe nothing.  Or a compliment, to some fine, attention-grabbing essays.  I’d been looking forward to reading the collection.    I said goodbye to Mack, flipped it open, and buried my nose in “The Trade,” relying on my peripheral vision.  I’d read “The Trade” before.   But still.  Tra la la la walking- clunk!

The entire collection is absolutely worth whacking my knees on a mailbox.  Wheaton offers some vignettes that will be familar to his blog readers.  I recognized “The Trade” and “You’re Gonna Be a Great Writer Someday, Gordie,” from Just a Geek. Those stories, and the rest of the volume’s 90 pages pack good, honest, heartfelt writing.  Wheaton doesn’t have an easy task- navigating through fame, memory, identity, acting craft, and the strangeness of an acting childhood as part of a legendary science fiction machine.  The collection tracks the process from a variety of angles.

Wheaton has a graceful touch with self-deprecating humor, and his honesty comes with warmth and very clear love for his family.

And that’s exactly what makes the collection so frustrating.  While it’s a good survey and introduction to Wheaton’s excellent prose, these tantalizing bits of larger works are maddening.  Must get myself copies of Dancing Barefoot and The Happiest Days of Our Lives.

It was sheer dumb luck that I read Just A Geek a few years ago, and learned what a great writer Wheaton can be.  Although I have geeky leanings, in my reading and viewing tastes, I am, compared to many of my friends, a dabbler.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with Wil’s character, Wesley Crusher.

One of the features of this sampler is an episode guide Wheaton wrote for the episode “Datalore.”  Howlingly funny, even though I’m pretty sure I never caught this specific episode on late night television.  Piqued my interest in a closer viewing of the series, especially if Wheaton writes and releases a more comprehensive viewer’s guide.  That, and Wheaton’s filming diary for his episode of Criminal Minds made me excited to see the shows he described, and also eager to read more of his thoughtful, behind-the-scenes analysis.

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