Book Review 62: The Happiest Days of Our Lives

“We’re not supposed to do this, but I’m a big fan,” [the gate guard] said,conspiratorially. With anyone who really was a big deal in Hollywood, he was probably risking his job.

“Really?” I said. “You seem a little young for TNG.”

He grinned. “Not Star Trek, your blog.”

This took me completely by surprise. I have been so busy with other writing projects that 1 haven’t been able to give my blog the attention I want. I’ve frequently considered putting iton hiatus for a few months.

“That,” I said, “is totally awesome. Thank you.”

He smiled and then looked over his shoulder at the other guards. He turned back to me, nodded tersely, and waved me onto the lot.

Page 104

CES ended a few days ago and I wanted to get in one more Star Trek book review before the second hand smoke and tradeshow carpet formaldehyde has completely let my lungs.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives” is another great collection from Wil Wheaton as he becomes an even more confident and comfortable essayist. The theme for this collection is nostalgia -- not in a maudlin way, but in the vein of looking back at both the good times and bad times in life and being able to softly sigh with a smile.

Most of the stories are not about Star Trek. The one that primarily is talks more about the fondness the cast felt for each other and for the show. The contrast between how the TNG felt about their colleagues and their show and how the TOS cast felt about their colleagues and their show (as expressed in other books) is striking.

Wheaton had to return to the Paramount lot to do some commentary for a Star Trek documentary.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just overwhelmed by a sadness right now that I can’t really explain.”

“I understand,” [the producer] said. “This happens whenever we work with someone from Next Generation. I don’t know what it was about you guys, but every single one of you loved each other and remembers working on the show very fondly.”

Page 109

Wheaton tells the story of how how came to terms with his Star Trek relationship in an earlier book so there’s not as much here. Instead, Wheaton focuses on the universal feelings many of us faced in youth -- even if we didn’t wear a space suit.

A time when my life was simpler and easier, when I had the luxury of taking for granted that I would always have everything I wanted and my opportunities were as numerous as the little mirrored stars on the black velvet starfield that hung behind Ten Forward on stage 9. Stars that are, most likely, cut up into hundreds of little bits to be doled out at auction for the next decade.

Page 113

The sense of possibility as a kid is something that’s not confined to child actors. He talks about things like music and how they have an impact on us growing up. When he hears a song, it takes him right back to a high school crush he had on an older girl.

“How Beautiful You Are” by The Cure—Kiss Me, Kiss Me,Kiss Me, the first compact disc I had, and it’s a good thing,too. I love this record so much, I would have worn it out in any other medium. This was also during the “W + K 4EVR”phase, and, nerdy little artist that I was, whenever I heard this song I longed to go with her to Paris and dance in the rain together. You know what I just realized? I don’t think I ever told her that I was so fiercely head over heels for her, and she either knew and didn’t call me out, or I had the perfect combination of infatuation and insecurity to keep it to myself. I wonder where she is today, and how she’s doing.

Page 59

I especially love that line about going Paris. It’s corny and cheesey and evocative. And, really, what 15 year old’s feeling of passion are not laden with corniness and cheeseyness? It captures the spirit of the feeling nicely.

Wheaton’s memory exploration doesn’t just go to the 70s and 80s. He also stays in the more-or-less present when he talks about his kids. He can still see them through teenagers' eyes and express what they are likely feeling through the his own set of experiences, a couple decades longer.

I glanced at Ryan again. His right leg was bouncing along with the music, and his head was bopping just a little bit.Translation: Must... maintain... carefully... crafted... cool.but... losing... battle... against... the..rock...

Page 69

I’m not sure that’s a thought that a teenager would articulate.

One thing I find interesting in this context in the comparison in biblical imagery as a kid and as an adult. In this passage we hear the thought of a little kid in the latter part of the passage.

We arrived a few minutes early (a rarity with my parents,who would show up an hour late for the end of the world) and I was one of the first kids to slide into my desk, right next to my friend Matthew. I thought he was cool because he had a Bible name.

page 16

Here, it is clearly an adult articulating a feeling a kid might have, but not in a way the kid would ever articulate.

“Okay, that’s fine. Let’s just go,” she said. I thought of looking back wistfully over my shoulder at the Millennium Falcon, but I was so ashamed of myself, I was certain that I’d be turned into a pillar of carbonite. Instead, I trailed behind my airplane-zooming brother and nap-needing sister while my mother pushed the cart up to the checkout.

page 44

Still, Wheaton tries to keep his own feelings in mind as he writes about his kids.

The nearest Cold Stone is in the mall, and it’s a bit of an ordeal to get there, park the car, walk across the whole place,deal with the inevitable mob of teenagers, blah blah blah get off my lawn, but when I was a kid and my dad took me for unannounced ice cream, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

page 47

And Wheaton takes joy in the subtle ironies of living in LA.

I turned his card over in my hand. His office at Walt Disney Studios on one side, the address to an illegal poker game on the other.

Sometimes, I love this town.

Page 134

While there is a strong focus on Wheaton’s younger years, it is not a book about a child actor. The acting is on the periphery of the story. He’s just a kid hanging out with his friends, going to school, and visiting relatives, and those feelings carry into the story. Wheaton’s story as a child actor may be an interesting one, but it’s not one he’s trying to tell. Instead, he tells as many “ordinary” stories as possible.

I feel I should call out one story in particular that had me cursing him like Sheldon. “Let Go -- A Requiem for Felix the Bear” is the story of a cat that adopts the Wheatons as its people. With the title of the story, it’s no secret that the cat dies at the end. The story is a heartfelt tribute with agonizing sadness as Wheaton tells us of this beloved and powerful animal. I don’t know how you can read it without tearing up. Of all the essays in the book, it has the most raw emotional power. It’s almost a little out of place with its tone, but I’m glad it’s in here.

If you’re a regular reader of Wheaton’s blog, or have seen him speak (I heard him read two of these stories at Emerald City Comic Con in 2009) you may already be familiar with the material. Much of it has already appeared on line. So why pick up a copy of the book?

Curration. This is a collection of the key stories Wheaton needs to tell. There’s a strong theme running through the book about awkwardly trying to make your way in the world -- as a kid, as a child star, as an adult, as a teenager, and even as a tough, old cat. Wheaton is able to tell a story and take us on a trip with this material, in a way the Nick Meyer couldn’t in his much broader book.

If you’re a fan of good story-tell, nostalgia, or of Wheaton, pick up “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.” It’s a quick read and a great book. Just save some tissues for Felix.

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