I have wanted to listen to an audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton (of “Stand By Me” and Star Trek fame) for a while and when his annotated memoir Still Just a Geek came out it seemed like a good one to try. Fellow Cannonballers, I did not expect the emotional journey I was about to take when starting this book. In the opening, Wheaton says that he is going to try his best to make it seem as though he is sitting down having a conversation with the listener, as opposed to narrating at them. He succeeds tremendously. I can’t imagine this book having quite the same impact if read on the page. In addition to the power of listening to Wheaton tell his story, there are many audio only comments and footnotes. Things he didn’t put in the paper version but added during the recording process.
In 2001, Wheaton started a web blog at the encouragement of his wife to connect with people so they would see beyond his portrayal of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The blog is a mishmash of geeky things, talking about his career (auditions, rejections, and why he kept pursuing a movie star career), and slice of life posts. In 2004, he took selected pieces from his blog and wrote a book, Just a Geek. In 2020, Wheaton made an annotated version as he examined his past self and his journey as a writer. At the start of Still Just a Geek Wheaton takes pains to explain he is not the same person who wrote the blog posts of the early 2000s, that he has grown and matured. There is much that he is now ashamed of, from his portrayal of women to use of the ableist term ‘lame’. There was a strong desire to edit and re-write but his editor pushed back against that. Instead, Wheaton calls himself out on both the grossness and terribleness of some of the writing.
The annotations aren’t all self flagellations there is also deep introspection on the trauma he suffered throughout his childhood and the depression, anxiety, and PTSD that was the result. At the time of the original writing he wasn’t aware on a conscious level of what he had been going through. His father was verbally, and sometimes physically abusive, and his mother continually gaslighted him. She gaslit him about his father’s abuse and about Wheaton’s desire to be an actor. Through him, she tried to live out the Hollywood dream she desired for herself. Despite begging to be allowed to stop acting and ‘just be a kid’ his mother manipulated him to continue working. Wheaton learned that the only way he could get love from his parents was to be a successful actor. It has taken years of therapy, quitting drinking, and brain meds to get to where he is today.
Beyond wanting show another side of himself, part of the purpose in writing the original Just a Geek was to work through his complicated relationship with the character Wesley Crusher. A character that has been continually reviled by some vocal aspects of the Trek fandom. The hate towards Wesley spilled over and Wheaton internalized it. He also felt stifled by the character and was worried about being forever type cast, hence his leaving the show (with the exception of cameos) after the fourth season. At the time of leaving, Wheaton had come to hate Star Trek. When the fabulous movie career did not materialize after leaving The Next Generation, he became obsessed with proving to everyone that quitting Star Trek had not been a mistake. After finishing annotating Just a Geek, Wheaton includes blog posts from recent years and the writing is a stark contrast from 2001. Aside from blog posts, he also includes speeches he wrote for various organizations including Mensa.
I was only vaguely into The Next Generation but fondly remember Wesley as I was also a smart, awkward kid at the same time the series was originally on the air. Sometime in the early 2000s, I discovered his blog and have read it on and off over the years. Then he did his YouTube series TableTop, that started in 2012, and I became an ardent fan. This show was responsible for stoking the flame on the embers of my love for board games. It also inspired me to start a game night with friends and helped solidify a group that I am still close with (though the pandemic definitely has put a dampener on getting together to play). I was sorrowful when the show ended in 2017. It’s all still up on YouTube and I highly recommend checking it out. Today I mostly follow Wheaton thorough social media. He is a geek through and through and I often feel seen reading his writings.
I don’t know if I’ve sold this book very well. There is much that is funny and entertaining, like the conversations he has with a Wesley Crusher action figure while in the process of Ebaying it. There is heartbreak in regards to his parents and the unsafe filming of The Curse. At times you can hear just how hard it is for Wheaton to relay these stories. But it is also heartwarming, to see his journey and the rich wonderful life he has now that he credits with the decisions he made (though at times he felt like they were the wrong ones).
If you have any interest in Wil Wheaton, whether it’s through Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory, Stand by Me, TableTop, as a writer or narrator, or through his blog, I recommend this book. If you too have a complicated relationship with your parents due to abuse, you will feel seen and supported by this book. This perhaps wasn’t the best example of Wheaton as a narrator but now that I’ve spent 20+ hours listening to him I need to find a different book where he does a traditional (and in some cases award winning) narration as he has a powerful voice.
Whew, as of the start of this sentence I’m at 1003 words but this book has layers y’all and I wanted to properly express all of them. Thanks for sticking to the end!