I’m always wary of things that categorize themselves as “nerdy” or “just for nerds.” I realize that I’m writing this on a site called “Nerdy Nothings,” and just this afternoon we posted some promotional material for a comedy troupe called the “Nerdologues,” but my wariness still stands. I think that sometimes people feel the need to marginalize themselves so others don’t have a chance — they call their pursuits nerdy to write them off before anyone else can, carving out their own niche but alienating themselves from culture at large. That’s the opposite of what I’m interested in (and what I think this very website and the Nerdologues care about as well), which is showing that so-called “nerdiness” has nothing to do with what’s liked but how we like it, and that everyone’s a little bit nerdy about something (I say this very thing on our podcast every episode, so some listeners are probably tired of it).
I’m happy to report, then, that Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture portrays nerdiness in exactly the way I like. Despite its potentially imposing title, this isn’t a book about cultural exclusion; no attitude of “our stuff is better than your stuff” prevails. Thankfully, this is also not a book that promises to wrap up readers in a labyrinth of nerd culture from which they can never return — while that might have been interesting, it would surely prove alienating to many, and that’s a problem lots of nerds have already. No, Geek Wisdom is a 200-page book of micro-essays and geek aphorisms that always has its sights set on context. It understands that readers live in the real world, and that the things they enjoy might have actual application in everyday scenarios. It’s a book that’s smart and well-written and not really alienating at all. In short, I liked it.
Every page of Geek Wisdom starts with a brief quote or aphorism that will probably be familiar to most nerds, as they’re culled from sci-fi movies, popular comic books, fantasy novels and the like. A miniature essay that follows explains the relevance of each quote to the modern reader, pulling on both material from within the quote’s original work and on real-world context. Often small trivia factoids follow the entries as well, and as something of a minutiae nerd I really appreciated these.
The micro-essays here are incredibly insightful and won this book a winning grade from me. I can’t praise Geek Wisdom‘s authors enough for looking beyond typical geek source material for inspiration, because that leads to some really interesting pieces. I especially like the way the book connects key sci-fi/fantasy characters with major historical figures. Does Yoda have anything in common with George Washington Carver? It turns out that yes, he really does. How about Optimus Prime and Martin Luther King, Jr.? The connection’s not quite as strong there, but it’s still present, and Stephen Segal and his team do impressive work to show not only why these characters reverberate so strongly with us, but why it’s okay that they do. Through and through Geek Wisdom takes the correct path, using compelling fiction to illuminate truths in the real world, giving both geeks and non-geeks something to learn.
None of this is to imply that Geek Wisdom is overly ponderous. The book’s also a lot of fun, and a lot of the aphorisms it repeats aren’t especially serious (when you quote Ralph Wiggum, you can’t really segue into Socrates… or can you?). But, as a proud nerd, I’m just happy to have a book that both champions my beloved culture but aligns it with reality. The ideal Geek Wisdom readers aren’t cowering in basements debating the finer points of Kirk vs. Picard, they’re out there trying to gain a foothold on the world in which they live using a particular branch of pop culture as a lens. That’s something everyone does, nerdy or not, and for Geek Wisdom to recognize that so thoroughly proves that it is indeed very wise.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more