crap i have read recently #15

wootstoutI do not follow celebrities on the internet all that much. I do not, for instance, feel a great need to know everything that Matt Smith does every second he’s at Comic Con. Nor do I care much what the flavor of the day tweets about what they had for breakfast. Most celebrity social networking sites are run by someone other than the actual celebrity anyways so I doubt I am missing much other than exhortations to see their movie, download their new song from iTunes, or admire how fabulous they look at awards ceremonies and parties. That said, there are a tiny handful of famous people that I do follow, primarily on FB and Tumblr (still cannot get into the Twitter thing). I follow them because, well, I’d follow them even if they weren’t famous. It might be because they post good/interesting photos or write insightful essays or are very funny. I follow them because they are very un-celebrity-like celebrities. They interact with their fans in a kind way and appear delighted to have the opportunity to do so. In fact, they just appear delighted with life in general and seem to be the sorts of celebrities that it might actually be awesome to know in person. The following reviews are for books by two of these people.

With that said, beware of possible SPOILERS below!

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman, 2013): I’m reviewing this book because Neil asked me to. Well…what he really did was ask his Tumblr followers to read the book, chat it up, say nice things about it, spread the word. As if anyone who reads this sort of thing would not actually know that Neil Gaiman has a new book out. In any case, I am happy to be able to oblige him.   It is a fine book, more like Stardust and Coraline than like American Gods or Neverwhere.  It is probably safe to say that if you like Neil Gaiman’s work in general you will like this as well.  If  you like the sort of fantasy where an alternate reality is accepted as a matter of fact, where this reality and that one cross over, and the air shimmers with magic, then you will probably like this as well.  If you like big, long, complicated things, then maybe not so much.

The tale begins simply enough as so many tales do.  Our unnamed narrator is back home for a funeral and while trying to avoid it he stops in at the place where his old house used to be.  While there he remembers Lettie Hempstock, a childhood friend down the road who claimed that there was an ocean in her backyard.  He drives down to her house at the end of the lane and finds it unchanged from  his memories.   An old woman, who he assumes to be Lettie’s mother, meets him and they sit and reminisce.  As he talks with her his memories become more and more detailed and he remembers a series of events from his childhood that began when a despondent lodger stole his father’s car and committed suicide in it.   In their efforts to drive off his unhappy ghost the boy and Lettie inadvertently let a malevolent creature into this world and the rest of the novel details their efforts to thwart its malignant plans and send it home.   The demon does not go willingly and along the way we see many magical things, get a glimpse of who the Hempstock women really are, face grave dangers, and learn that there really is an ocean at the end of the lane.

My words don’t really do justice to Gaiman’s prose.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fairy tale, complete with good witches, evil nannies, clueless parents, magical cats, brave children, sacrifice, and a small boy who must find it in himself to be a hero in the face of very scary monsters.  It is a short read but a rich one, full of detail and melancholy and love.   Parts of it ring so true:  the narrator’s purposeful listlessness as he drives around trying to avoid the post funeral gathering; the boy’s panic when his parents hire a paragon to watch him and his sister; his matter-of-fact acceptance of the many unusual things Lettie shows him and his reluctance to believe her about the ocean.  The book is mature enough to appeal to adults (and it was written for Gaiman’s wife) but it is the sort of story that I think certain children would like as well, full of kids being kids, being scared, being brave together, inhabiting a world that most adults barely see, a world that is chock-full of really dreadful things.  It could be a dream or a hallucination or it could be as real as the nice hot cup of tea that Lettie’s grandmother (not her mother after all) brings our narrator at the end of the story.  It reminds you of your own childhood and the last time you believed in your heart that magic things were real.

It’s not a very big book but, like Lettie’s pond, it is larger than it seems at first.  I told myself I would read it slowly and make it last, but I swear the pages turned themselves.

Score: Meh.

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Just a Geek (Wil Wheaton, 2004): I can’t even remember now why I started following Wil’s FB and Tumblr pages but I think it has something to do with Fark. I’ve been an avid reader of Fark for way more years than I want to admit to and Wheaton is (or used to be) a fairly regular contributor, to the extent he has his own tag. So that is most likely where this former child star and Star Trek: The Next Generation cast member came back into my consciousness. Wheaton has kept a blog for many years and has written eloquently about his difficulties transitioning to post-child-actor obscurity, his herculean and frustrating efforts to remain active in the business, his wife and stepkids, his dogs, Star Trek, and a variety of geeky things. Just a Geek is a compendium of many of his pre-2003 blog posts, interspersed with commentary about his life and experiences. This is an interesting window in time because it covers the period when he first began to come to terms with Wesley Crusher and ST:TNG in general. His recollections of his teenage self are tinged with remorse and he recounts his dread of conventions, really of anything having to do with ST:TNG and the legacy it saddled him with.

I’m not sure how much this book would appeal to anyone not already into Wil Wheaton or Star Trek or geekly things but as a story of personal growth I found it compelling. Wil is an example of that rare breed, a child actor who has managed to build himself a new and awesome life that both respects who he was and revels in who he is becoming. It doesn’t hurt that he writes well. The blog pieces demonstrate his growth an an author and the explanatory text surrounding them gives the reader deeper insight into the events and people he chronicles. He has a marvelous sense of humor about himself and for a famous guy, he’s pretty humble. As his blog notes, he’s “just this guy.”  I’d never really read back into the archives of his blog so most of this material was new to me.   And in a fun coincidence, Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction to it.  Turns out he’d been reading Wil’s blog too and found it and Wil both to be interesting and engaging.

Although overall the book is an enjoyable read, the chapters wherein he goes to Hollywood to film scenes for Star Trek Nemesis are the best. His relief that his fellow ST:TNG cast members both remember him fondly and welcome him to the set is palpable. His joy at being back in the uniform is infectious and his interactions with and descriptions of the other cast members are charming. He is big enough to mention his disappointment that his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor but not be overly bitter about it. I’m usually not a big fan of autobiographical writing or of celebrity biographies in general but Wheaton’s journey from self-imposed exile back to an active creative life is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of growing up, growing out, and coming home. He is honest about his own fears and shortcomings, generous to others, and seems genuinely and pleasantly gobsmacked by the arc of his life.

This book is nearly a decade old and lately Wheaton’s blog and FB and Tumblr and Twitter feeds are full of well-deserved happiness. He has a recurring role on Big Bang Theory and has appeared in several other recent TV shows and internet series (The Guild, Eureka, Leverage). He’s got a wonderful internet show called Tabletop in which he plays games each week with a bunch of other people. He still writes his blog and his Twitter account is legendary. He’s written several other books and is a contributor to a few online sites. He’s gone on one or two of the JoCo Crazy cruises run by Jonathan Coulton and apparently had a blast. He regularly attends all sorts of conventions (Star Trek, PAX, comic cons, etc.) and appears to love it. He has a lovely and very funny wife, two adorable dogs, a demanding cat, engaging stepchildren (all grown up now), and an abiding passion for all things geek. He makes beer. He really seems to enjoy his life and to be very grateful for the opportunities he’s had.  He’s great to his fans and seems to get quite a hoot out of all the goofy things they do for him.

It turns out there really can be a second act.  Really, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Score: Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on July 24, 2013.

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