When I worked for Dignews, pour one out, I used to cover PAX every year. My must–attend event was Will Wheaton's panel. Preceded by a Keynote my first year, his talks were a mix of storytelling and a celebration of the power of games. His blog held a treasure trove of these types of stories. A smaller collection of these are in Dancing Barefoot.
I ended up reading Dancing Barefoot during a long car ride. It's a slim 150 or so pages. It's made up of four shorter stories, and one long story that takes up around half the book.
Wheaton's style is conversational in the best way. You feel like you're hearing a story from a friend over a beer. He's openly confessional here, letting you feel his insecurity and sadness, but also brining you along for the high points. The latter half of the book is him coming to terms with Star Trek and its place in his life. Its a nice tour through the fandom industry and community from the other side of the table.
You can see the most toxic elements at fandom creeping at the edges here. It shouldn't really shock anyone that nerds can be assholes, but I think you really can see some of the sense of entitlement that hardened into apoplectic rage when given a voice online in the next decade.
What I found interesting was that I had a bit of nostalgia when reading this book. The takeover of Twitter and Facebook from personal blogging has really limited this type of storytelling. Now that we figured out that most of Facebook and Twitter is bots screaming at each other in public, blogging is making a resurgence.
Blogging operated at this weird moment where computers were ubiquitous, and setting a website was easy enough for amateurs. It was before your expression had to fit into the space that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram gave you. Some people made photoblogs, some people wrote fiction, while people like Wheaton wrote personal stories.
I think that there is something to be said for the form in enabling people to better understand each other. Part of the reason that nuance is so absent in discourse is that everything is reduced to it's barest and briefest form. Everything is stripped of context, and arguments have to be laser focused. Everything else fades into the background.
I'm going to tear through Wheaton's other two books from this time: Just A Geek and Happiest Days of Our Lives. He has some other shorter books as well, including some fiction. He's an entertaining writer, but Jean Shepherd style personal stories are his strongest work.
I continued on to Just A Geek, which mixes old blog posts with updated commentary on the background of their creation. This book has far more angst than Dancing Barefoot, but feels like the journey that lead Wheaton into his second life as a blogger, which would ultimately lead him back to television. (Along with a sidetrack into one of best uses of YouTube’s ability to reach and capitalize on niche audiences, Tabletop.)
I’m getting ahead of myself. The stories and blog posts evolve as Wheaton tries to find his style. There’s a mix of diaries about struggling with acting, current pop culture, the minutiae of Star Trek conventions. Wheaton makes the journey from failed child actor, to finding some success as a blogger, and finally coming to terms with Wesley Crusher.
Dancing Barefoot was a great book that was a pleasant set of raw and personal stories. Just A Geek feels like commentary track to a blog. That isn’t all bad. We see Wheaton evolving as a writer , right next to his current state giving the context. This was a nice read, but moved a bit slower than Dancing Barefoot.
The final of Wheaton's original run of books, this is where the Wil Wheaton I liked to see at PAX is fully formed. Though there are some gleaming moments in the other books, they lack the deftness and confidence these stories have.
Here all of the entries have defined structures in service of a narrative. Out of the three the writing is the strongest in Happiest Days Of Our Lives. It feels more honest. He’s also less self-conscious here, letting the stories live on their own. There is a bit of meta commentary but it’s limited to stories added in later print runs and why there were both cut and then re-added.
There's some charming stories about growing up geeky. Selling toys you wish you hadn't buts up against missing out on drugs and partying because you're too busy playing D&D. There's also stories about his stepsons and wife that really give you a sense of Wheaton's everyday life.
Just a Geek might be the most blog-like of these books, but Happiest Days of Our Lives has the types of stories that actually make you want to read someone's blog. They're real and they have heart, but without the winking in the earlier books to deflect from the moment. But there's also a lot less time spent analyzing every moment through the lens of being taken seriously as a writer.
I started out with these books because I never got around to reading them earlier. It was a sense of nostalgia for those days when I got to play journalist once a year, and seeing Wheaton was one of the final things before I had to take off the press pass and go home.
It's funny that when I start feeling that I'm not a serious writer I read the geek equivalent of the Icelandic sagas about being taken seriously as a writer. If you really want to plow through all three books, you'll get a complete picture of someone finding their voice, and then finding their confidence. Wheaton isn't done telling confessional stories, and he recently posted a talk he gave on clinical depression.
The journey here is not a template for success, nor was it meant as one. It is a condensed period of nearly a decade of writing. You get the sense of the work that went into developing as a writer. You get the idea that someone who starts out fearful that anyone is paying attention, even with Star Trek and Stand By Me behind them, really develops once they worry about what they want to write and less about who they're writing it for.
Rants and Reviews. Mostly just BS and Affiliate Links.