The Happiest Days of Our Lives by Wil Wheaton: B+

happiest-daysFrom the back cover:
Readers of Wil Wheaton’s website know that he is a masterful teller of elegant stories about his life. Building on the critical success of Dancing Barefoot and Just a Geek, he has collected more of his own favorite stories in his third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. These are the stories Wil loves to tell, because they are the closest to his heart: stories about being a huge geek, passing his geeky hobbies and values along to his own children, and painting, as vividly as possible, what it meant to grow up in the ’70s and come of age in the ’80s as part of the video game/D&D/BBS/Star Wars figures generation.

In all of these tales, Wheaton brings the reader into the raw heart of the story, holding nothing back, and you are invited to join him on a journey through The Happiest Days of Our Lives.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives, a collection of stories by actor, writer, and blogger Wil Wheaton, focuses primarily on childhood and adolescent memories as viewed through the nostalgic lens of an adult and experienced parent. In “Blue Light Special,” for example, Wil tells the amusing story of how he ended up with a Lando Calrissian action figure. “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Geek” charts his entry into the world of gaming. And in “The Butterfly Tree,” he recounts the story of how he got in trouble at school for the first time, and manages to perfectly capture the painful moment when a child first discovers the fallibility of adults, as his teacher punishes him unfairly and his parents fail to defend him. Having had a similar experience myself once (though, happily, with much parental defense), I thought he nailed the feeling precisely.

I’m not a regular reader of Wil’s blog, so nearly all of this material was new to me. Sometimes this worked to my detriment, though, as there were references to other stories—one about a homemade Star Wars toy and the other an in-joke shared between Wil and Jonathan Frakes—that I just didn’t get. Still, growing up in the ’80s myself, there was much with which I identified, like watching Poltergeist and being scared silly (“Close Your Eyes and Then It’s Past”) or forever being tempted to equate raspberry sorbet with a certain song by Prince (“Exactly What I Wanted”).

I also enjoyed stories like “Suddenly It’s Tomorrow,” which is about Wil’s desire need to spend more time with his family. The story that resonated with me the most, though, was “Let Go – A Requiem for Felix the Bear.” This story, about the efforts of Wil and his wife to prolong the life of a sick and beloved kitty, had me in tears. It also made me love Wil quite a lot, not only for the efforts he made to help Felix, but for how profoundly affected he was by his death.

There’s not much negative to say about the collection. A couple of the stories aren’t really stories, but are more just snapshots of recollections, like “Beyond the Rim of the Starlight,” which is about Wil’s experiences attending Star Trek conventions, and “My Mind is Filled with Silvery Star,” in which Wil puts the ’80s music on his iPod on shuffle and writes about the memories that each song conjures up. While I preferred the tales with linear narratives, I still found both pieces to be entertaining. The only real sour note is the final story, “Lying in Odessa,” which has nothing to do with being a geek or being a parent. Instead, Wil writes about an illegal poker tournament that he participated in. Since I am not a poker aficionado, there were many terms that I didn’t understand and I questioned the choice to end with this story and not one of the warm and fuzzy “family togetherness” ones.

I’m not sure the experience of reading The Happiest Days of Our Lives will convert me into a faithful blog-reader, but it has at least sparked an interest in reading Wil’s other books one of these days.

Additional reviews of The Happiest Days of Our Lives can be found at Triple Take.

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