Government Preparation for Adulthood

This story is almost two weeks old, but it still has value.

A two-page oral sex encounter by an awkward teen at boarding school in the coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska was deemed too racy by Sumner County schools last week.

The district banned the book from its assigned classroom reading list, becoming at least the second in the state, after Knox County in March, to keep students from reading it together in class.

The teen novel is the first in several years to be stripped from Sumner classrooms. Wilson, Rutherford and Williamson county schools say they haven’t banned the book or any titles in recent years. Metro schools didn’t have information on the book as of Monday.

In this case, he said, the value didn’t outweigh the controversy. The book was not pulled from any district library shelves, [Sumner County schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson] said.

I oppose censorship. This is clearly a form of censorship, although not quite as bad as removing the book from the school system entirely. A public school board prohibiting a book from the classroom curriculum is insulting to both teachers and students. It also provides excellent support for a libertarian rant against public provision of education. The argument against home-schooling seems centered around the willingness of some parents to avoid facts. This is no better, since the government engages in the same behavior. It’s also unnecessary. In high school, I had to seek parental permission to read The Catcher in the Rye for an essay because it featured adult language and themes. That’s an imperfect, reasonable solution which leaves discretion to parents and provides a learning opportunity for all students.

The school board’s decision is awful, and especially so because the book is part of a high school curriculum in which students are presumably being taught to think critically. Still, this strikes me as worse:

“Kids at this age are impressionable. Sometimes it’s a monkey see, monkey do,” said parent Kathy Clough, who has a freshman and a senior at White House High School, where the book had been assigned reading. “I’m going to trust that my school board made the right choice. … If they feel like this book is a little too graphic, I’m all for it.”

Or she could read the book and decide for herself. Just an idea.

I don’t understand that kind of parental abdication. Of course her concern is probably quite appropriate, given how willing she seems to turn over the raising of her children (who are nearly adults) to a government body. But this is infuriating because she assumes all parents are as incapable of teaching the idiocy of “monkey see, monkey do” as she implies she is, and therefore, no parents should have the choice for such books to be a part of their teen’s education. If she thinks a “child” 14 or older isn’t aware that oral sex is a thing, she’s mistaken. If a child teen between 14 and 18 hasn’t learned enough to distinguish literature from a directive, the school system is worse than just a censoring band of thugs. It’s an incompetent, censoring band of thugs. All parents should be vehemently opposed to ceding more control to that school system, as Ms. Clough is happy to do.

Here’s the author, John Green, explaining this scenario when it occurred elsewhere in 2008:

Via John Green on Twitter.

Update: Post updated because I found evidence that I had to ask permission to read The Catcher in the Rye.

“Doesn’t everyone believe that it is evil to be selfish?”

Spoiler Alert: This entry includes a discussion of plot points from “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

In the New York Times Adam Kirsch reviewed Anne Heller’s new Ayn Rand biography, “Ayn Rand and the World She Made.” I have nothing to say regarding Heller’s book specifically because I haven’t read it yet. Here I wish to focus on Kirsch’s grasp on Ayn Rand’s two major novels. There is nothing to definitively suggest he hasn’t read them, although I suspect he hasn’t. There is plenty to prove that he hasn’t understood them if he has read them.

He reveals his ignorance in the first seven words of his review:

A specter is haunting the Republican Party — …

The implications of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are as relevant against the Republican Party as they are against the Democratic Party. Neither cares about anything beyond handing out favors to its preferred group of insiders in exchange for continued power. The individual is a tool to be manipulated for the party’s needs. Kirsch’s references to Whitaker Chambers and Wendell Willkie should’ve been enough for him to at least explore the validity of his thesis. Instead he cited the rantings of outrage-huckster straw man Glenn Beck, who is not a libertarian.

(Note: The term libertarian is the easiest way to represent liberty here. But Rand was an Objectivist, which is similar but not synonymous. See here, for example.)

Next, Kirsch attempts to summarize Rand (emphasis added):

And while it’s not hard to understand Rand’s revenge-fantasy appeal to those on the right, would-be Galts ought to hear the story Anne C. Heller has to tell in her dramatic and very timely biography, “Ayn Rand and the World She Made.”

“Going Galt” is likely a revenge fantasy to those claiming they will now “Go Galt” as a result of some offense by the Obama administration, but that doesn’t guarantee it reflects the meaning of what they’ve co-opted. First, Rand would’ve been no less an opponent of George W. Bush’s administration than she would’ve been of Obama’s. Or likely any other presidential administration since the publication of Atlas Shrugged because of the ever-growing control of the modern presidency (and legislature) over the choices of individuals.

More importantly, “Going Galt” is about withdrawing from a society that seeks only to act as a leech. Some of the words Rand gave to Galt:

There is a difference between our strike and all those you’ve practiced for centuries: our strike consists, not of making demands, but of granting them. We are evil, according to your morality. We have chosen not to harm you any longer. We are useless, according to your economics. We have chosen not to exploit you any longer. We are dangerous and to be shackled, according to your politics. We have chosen not to endanger you, nor to wear the shackles any longer. We are only an illusion, according to your philosophy. We have chosen not to blind you any longer and have left you free to face reality-the reality you wanted, the world as you see it now, a world without mind.

We have granted you everything you demanded of us, we who had always been the givers, but have only now understood it. We have no demands to present to you, no terms to bargain about, no compromise to reach. You have nothing to offer us. We do not need you.

Galt’s speech is “goodbye,” not “let’s negotiate a compromise.” But it’s only a goodbye to the world of moochers and looters, not from producing or living as he wishes. Galt’s Gulch was a society where men and women produced. This year’s “Going Galt” meme was about going idle. It is a reaction to the ongoing problem identified by Rand, but it is not her solution.

For one thing, it is far more interesting than anything in Rand’s novels. … The characters Rand created, on the other hand — like Galt or Howard Roark, the architect hero of “The Fountainhead” — are abstract principles set to moving and talking.

This is at once the failure and the making of Rand’s fiction. The plotting and characterization in her books may be vulgar and unbelievable, just as one would expect from the middling Holly­wood screenwriter she once was; but her message, while not necessarily more sophisticated, is magnified by the power of its absolute sincerity. …

Rand was a Romantic, which is why her characters “are abstract principles set to moving and talking.” I’ve heard it said (I forget by whom) that Rand was a 19th century writer in the 20th century. That’s an accurate description, but as a criticism from Kirsch, it’s purely subjective. The proper approach to criticism is to judge whether or not the literature works at what the writer attempted rather than whether or not the reviewer approves of the writer’s intent and/or method. Her ideas, which are what Kirsch attacks¹ in his essay, are not false simply because he perceives her characters as abstract principles.

Personally, I enjoyed Rand’s approach to both novels as literature. I found her characters and situations compelling and effective in achieving what she sought to present. However, she could not write sex scenes. The sexual relationships in both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged suggest that she had a bizarre concept of sexual intimacy. Whatever she believed in her life, Roark’s rape of Dominique in The Fountainhead is an inexcusable error in her presentation of Howard Roark as an idealized man. She was not a perfect novelist never to be questioned.

Kirsch reveals his misunderstanding (or ignorance) of Rand’s novels in this paragraph:

Rand’s particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism — to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished. Or, rather, that they could distinguish themselves by the ardor of their commitment to Rand’s teaching. The very form of her novels makes the same point: they are as cartoonish and sexed-up as any best seller, yet they are constantly suggesting that the reader who appreciates them is one of the elect.

In Atlas Shrugged there is a difference between John Galt and James Taggart, but there is also a difference between John Galt and Eddie Willers. Rand presented the idea that talent is real and identifiable, but also that, while everyone isn’t moral, anyone can be. Eddie Willers wasn’t invited to “Go Galt” because he wasn’t a creator, but he wasn’t despised because the heroes of Atlas Shrugged knew him to be moral who recognized the difference between producing and looting. Patronizing to the untalented moral man? Probably. Evidence that Rand believed everyone could be an elite? No.

Kirsch next engages in the type of cartoonish characterization he attributes to Rand’s novels. When discussing Rand’s process for writing and publishing Galt’s speech, he states (emphasis added):

… Rand labored for more than two years on Galt’s radio address near the end of “Atlas Shrugged” — a long paean to capitalism, individualism and selfishness that makes Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” sound like the Sermon on the Mount. … [Random House’s Bennett] Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties,
she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life. Politically, Rand was committed to the idea that capitalism is the best form of social organization invented or conceivable. This was, perhaps, an understandable reaction against her childhood experience of Communism. …

Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done. It is the act of an intellectual, of someone who believes that ideas matter more than lucre. In fact, as Heller shows, Rand had no more reverence for the actual businessmen she met than most intellectuals do. The problem was that, according to her own theories, the executives were supposed to be as creative and admirable as any artist or thinker. They were part of the fraternity of the gifted, whose strike, in “Atlas Shrugged,” brings the world to its knees.

Wall Street is a fine film, but it’s full of hogwash as an attempted refutation of capitalism. The movie is Oliver Stone’s half-understanding of “greed”, which is similar to the very common misunderstanding of Ayn Rand’s vision of “selfishness.” Advocates of capitalism don’t push it as the best form of social organization in order to create an enclave of Gordon Gekkos. It is the best form of social organization because it is based on voluntary exchange. Decentralized decision-making is better at discovering and meeting individual needs and desires. It is based on the realization that elites can’t possibly know what’s best for everyone or anyone.

A key facet of economics is that all tastes and preferences are subjective. Rand’s willingness to concede 7 cents per copy to keep Galt’s speech unaltered indicates only that she valued the presentation of her unedited work more than 7 cents per copy. It was a voluntary exchange, mutually beneficial to her and Random House. Suggesting that this is a contradiction of her philosophy, that no “genuine capitalist” would ever give up money, is a pejorative little different than suggesting that “no genuine Jew” would choose principle over pennies. Kirsch’s statement is a smear of lesser magnitude because his stereotype is more acceptable politically, but it is still a smear.

Rand presented her view of money in Atlas Shrugged, as spoken by Francisco d’Anconia in his speech on money. An excerpt relevant to Kirsch’s cartoonish mischaracterization of capitalists:

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

The notion that Rand’s only action consistent with her philosophy would be to hoard “lucre” reveals Kirsch’s ignorance of Rand. His disagreement with her does not disqualify him from critiquing her. Not understanding her novels or her philosophy does.

11/1 Update: The more I think about Adam Kirsch’s book review of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged Anne Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made, the more I realize it was worse than I depicted. Rand explained what she thought of Kirsch’s idea of the “genuine capitalist” in The Fountainhead. His name was Gail Wynand, the news tycoon who published ideas he believed to be false in order to collect “lucre” from customers. Nothing was beyond Wynand’s preference for pennies over principle, as evidenced by his publishing Ellsworth Toohey’s words. In the novel’s conclusion, Wynand did not get what he wanted because he did not deserve it. He’d sacrificed himself for something smaller.

¹ Remember, though, that his essay is ostensibly a book review of a Rand biography.

If subset Y exists within X, not all members of X must belong to subset Y.

Via Andrew Sullivan, Harper’s Magazine has an article by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s behind a subscription firewall, so I haven’t read it, but this excerpt posted by Mr. Sullivan is interesting:

Over the years, books kept in print may earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for their publisher and author. A few steady earners, even though the annual earnings are in what is now dismissively called “the midlist,” can keep publishers in business for years, and even allow them to take a risk or two on new authors. If I were a publisher, I’d rather own J.R.R. Tolkien than J. K. Rowling.

But capitalists count weeks, not years. To get big quick money, the publisher must risk a multimillion-dollar advance on a hot author who’s supposed to provide this week’s bestseller. These millions—often a dead loss—come out of funds that used to go to pay normal advances to reliable midlist authors and the royalties on older books that kept selling. Many midlist authors have been dropped, many reliably selling books remaindered, in order to feed Moloch. Is that any way to run a business?

Consider yesterday’s screed by Robert Samuelson and compare it to this essay. All capitalists count weeks, not years. The indictment is against capitalists, not specific capitalists with a shorter-term view. If I go into my local bookstore, will I find books by midlist authors? Will I find Tolkein and lower-selling authors? Or will I just find J.K. Rowling?

The questions are absurd. Even small bookstores carry more than just the bestsellers. Of course they focus on the bestsellers; “bestsellers” suggests profit, so most bookstores would be stupid to ignore them. But not all customers want that. Thus, they also sell midlist (and obscure) titles. For bookstores to have books by midlist (and obscure) authors to sell, publishers (i.e. capitalists) must publish those titles.

The author’s opinion that going for the hot author is a bad way to run a publishing house is subjective. The only “right” way is the one determined by the capitalist that enables her to stay in business by meeting demand. All other ranting against capitalists as a group is sophistry.

Literary Device or Political Argument?

The author (Daniel Ford) of this otherwise interesting review of Duane Shultz’s book Into the Fire uses a bizarre literary device to tie the Allied raid on Ploesti during World War II – the subject of Into the Fire – to current events in Iraq. The opening sentence:

Whereas now we go into combat hoping for zero casualties and regard any loss whatever as proof of unforgivable incompetence, the history of warfare is mostly a chronicle of high casualties and terrible sacrifice.

I initially thought there might be a specific political agenda to this. A little reflection makes me think that it’s more innocent than that, but it’s still strange. Did the United States go into WWII hoping for high casualties and terrible sacrifice? I doubt it, so I don’t think anything changed in the last 66 years. Assuming Mr. Ford meant to imply that we used to suffer casualties beyond what we’d accept or believe today, the device is clumsy.

In the meantime, that single, bootless, 27-minute raid cost the lives or freedom of as many young Americans as 10 months of combat in Iraq.

The comparison is interesting for putting the Ploesti story in context, so I’m willing to believe this is a bizarre-yet-innocent way of comparing the casualty reality. But the setup is unbelievably clumsy.

There’s no major point here. I’m just fascinated as a writer because I would hope I would avoid the type of opening offered in the review. As I contemplate writing more organized essays, I’m looking for examples of what to do and not to do. This stood out.

Book Meme

I don’t normally partake in the meme-du-jour running around the Internets, but I like this book meme picked up from Positive Liberty and Freespace. The rules:

  1. Bold what you have read
  2. Italicise what you started but couldn’t finish

(The original meme list is longer, but I’ve read so few of those to bother with the full list. I’m keeping only those I have a reason to mention, which will probably give the impression that I don’t read. I do, but I favor spy novels set in WWII when I read fiction.)

Crime and Punishment

I own an old copy of this that belonged to my grandfather. I’ll read it one day.


I haven’t read this, but I feel like I should. So far, “should” isn’t a compelling reason.

A Tale of Two Cities

Great Expectations

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I have this book, but I’ll probably never read it.

Atlas Shrugged

I’m reading The Fountainhead now. This is high on the list of what I’m considering after The Fountainhead

Brave New World

Finally, a classic I’ve read. I love this book. It was my first introduction to the idea that maybe government isn’t perfect. I wrote my senior term paper comparing this and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. My teacher wasn’t confident I could pull it off, but she okayed the idea. I earned a B+, but only because the footnotes were so badly formatted. (This was back in the old days, when kids used pens to write.) She told me I would’ve earned an A.

The Fountainhead

As I mentioned, I’m currently reading this. I’ve been slow in parts of my libertarian development. For what it’s worth, I’m enjoying this tremenously. And I’m wondering if I could play Roark if a remake appears.

The Grapes of Wrath


I read this for the first time last year. Excellent. Justifiably called a classic.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

My favorite novel. I can’t say enough good things about it. With a WWII setting and excellent writing, it’s money. Highly recommended.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Sound and the Fury

I tried to read this. Made it through approximately 40 pages. One long streaming mess. Supposedly it gets better after the first 70 pages or so, but I have no interest in returning to it to find out. Seriously, I want that part of my life back.


I named my website after a reference in this book. I’ve read it several times. I even enjoyed the movie.

The Scarlet Letter

The Catcher in the Rye

Twice, and both times I enjoyed it. When I read it in high school, I couldn’t read it for English class until I had my mother’s written permission.

On the Road

In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

I read this in one day. I enjoyed it well enough, but the book report due the next day caused the one-sitting effort.

There are books not on this list that should be, given some of the choices offered. A classic like The Great Gatsby, which I liked well enough, or a more recent novel like The Crimson Petal and the White, which I loved.

Tom Brady Is Useless

Kip at A Stitch in Haste links to Time Magazine’s Top 100 English Language Novels (since 1923). He’s mystified that Time omitted The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, both by Ayn Rand. I haven’t read either, so I can’t comment on their exclusion, but I did answer his discussion question asking what novels should be added to the list. Here’s my comment:

Eight. My strong preference for spy fiction set in WWII [I wrote “WWII spy fiction” but edited it for clarity because I’m that annoying] has an opportunity cost, as well. The books I’ve read:

The Catcher in the Rye – school, reread by choice
The Grapes of Wrath – school
The Great Gatsby – school, reread by choice
Lord of the Flies – school
On the Road – school
Portnoy’s Complaint – choice
Slaughterhouse-Five – choice, several times (as well as the movie)
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – choice

8 1/4 if I count The Sound and the Fury. The opening 75 pages of that make no sense. It’s amazing how effective punctuation and “he said” can be at aiding comprehension. But, if no one understands the book, it must be great. (Exhibit B: The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead.)

I’d add… The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (my favorite book), The Crimson Petal and the White, and Brave New World.

I know of at least one English major who can answer this, but I’m curious about everyone’s opinion on this list. What do you think? Personally, I think these lists are generally worthless, other than as a starting point for what everyone “should” read. As I mentioned in my comment to Kip’s entry, I’ve read the first 50 pages or so of The Sound and the Fury but haven’t finished it. Faulkner’s style turned me off immediately. I might finish it one day, but I feel no rush. The novel appearing on a Top 100 list doesn’t change that.

Or consider my Exhibit B, The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. I anxiously read that because it received a lot of critical acclaim and the premise seemed interesting. When I read it, I wanted to throw the book so many times. I finished it but only because I didn’t not finish books at the time. That book probably forced me to abandon that irrational strategy.

Specifically, I hated the way Mr. Whitehead shifted his narration with no warning. I’d read along and suddenly find myself in the middle of a long, long passage that derailed the story’s flow. Even today, I can’t decide if his literary device was a sign of a writer not talented enough to explain his point clearly (not that I’d missed it with the story itself) or a writer too talented to think that he only needed simple sentences that moved the story along. It may have been hailed as …the freshest racial allegory since Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye…. by Walter Kirn, but within the first one hundred pages, I was thinking “Yeah, ok, I get it. We’re a racist society. So what?” I hated it.

As I wrote here, the message as the foundation doesn’t work in literature, whether it’s books, movies, or television. It’s fine to have a message. Some of the best literature will reveal a moral, but the message must evolve out of the story. Above all else, I want to be entertained. A book isn’t great just because it’s complicated and doesn’t make sense. If that’s the case, the writer most likely failed.

That doesn’t have much to do with anything, of course. I’m just rambling because I like books, but I don’t like bad books. And I loathe bad “good” books. So I’d shake up Time’s list. Rather than ramble on anymore, I’ll just ask the same question Kip asked. What novels would you include on the list? And if you want to include a count of the books from the Top 100 that you’ve read (with titles, even), post that, as well.

Trapped in the amber of the moment

Today is the perfect day for me to accidentally discover that Kurt Vonnegut has another book, A Man Without a Country, due in September. (Pre-order it here.) Here is the publisher’s marketing description of A Man Without a Country:

Based on short essays and speeches composed over the last five years and plentifully illustrated with artwork by the author throughout, A Man Without a Country gives us Vonnegut both speaking out with indignation and writing tenderly to his fellow Americans, sometimes joking, at other times hopeless, always searching.

As much as I’d love to read a new Kurt Vonnegut novel, this will suffice. His opinions tend to veer more pessimistic, further left-wing than mine, but he can write a scintillating phrase like no one else I’ve ever read. His works occupy my bookshelves and even provided the inspiration for the name of this site. Is it September 15th yet?

— This news is perfect because today is’s second anniversary (blogiversary?).

Get Your Geek On

From the moment Danielle and I landed at McCarran Airport, getting to the Las Vegas Hilton was our sole focus.

&#60begin tedious details here&#62

– We picked up the rental car.
– We navigated through Las Vegas lunch hour traffic.
– We avoided random traffic cones in the street that served no apparent purpose.
– We parked in the free garage at the Hilton.
– We meandered through the Hilton casino looking for the Star Trek convention.
We Danielle asked for guidance from a quaint security guard who pointed us to the convention area.

&#60end tedious details here&#62

At 12:15pm we arrived at the Will Call window table in front of the dealer auditorium. After some brief information gathering, we figured out that we hadn’t missed the Wil Wheaton autograph session. We didn’t yet know when it would be, but we hadn’t missed it. One step at a time.

Looking through the program, we discovered that the schedule included Wil Wheaton’s book reading at 1pm. His improv group, Earnest Borg 9, would perform at 6:40pm, forty minutes after the scheduled end of festivities.

Since we had more than forty minutes before the reading, we circled the dealer auditorium to learn what kind of crap memorabilia was for sale. We saw little of interest, with the limited array of oddball items available. It was just Star Trek figures, t-shirts, videos, and pictures. Our senses were overloaded, so we weren’t scanning closely enough to find the hidden gems.

The multitude of autograph tables with unrecognizable celebrities did catch our attention. Most of these people seemed to be no-name, B-list stars, but in the Star Trek universe, they were Big&#153. Even if Big&#153 is defined as Alien #3 in any random episode, Star Trek actor is never a small role. Strange.

(I was excited to see one particular star, one not named Wil Wheaton. More in my next post…)

Realizing that we wished to get good seats, we left the dealer auditorium to seek out the room for Wil Wheaton’s book reading. We found this quickly, but it was occupied by an appraiser who determines the value of Star Trek memorabilia. Think Star Trek Antiques Roadshow. With thirty minutes to go until 1:00, we picked seats near the front and waited. I don’t wish to give the impression that the appraiser was boring, because he wasn’t, but we were restless. We had no Star Trek memorabilia to sell, so we just wanted some Wheaton.

We got the brilliant idea to seek out the Photo-Op with Wil Wheaton in the dealer auditorium. We had some time to kill and pictures would be cool. We journeyed back. After some head-scratching, misguided navigation, we found the booth and got in line. Within a couple of minutes, a volunteer let us know that only one actor was taking photos at the time. It wasn’t Wil Wheaton.

Twenty minutes to go, so we had to hustle. When we got back to the correct auditorium, more people had filled the seats. Worst of all, the front row was packed. We were bummed that our plan had backfired on both fronts, but we gambled and lost. Vegas, baby, Vegas.

At one o’clock, the moderator thanked the appraiser and led into his Wil Wheaton introduction. He then pointed and asked Wil to come up front. He’d been sitting in the audience all along. Doh!

He bantered, then read from Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot. We laughed. Even though I’d read all the stories, he entertained me. Hearing him read his stories is the same as hearing David Sedaris read his work. The words are great written on the page, but reading them aloud infuses them with their full spectrum of life. I can’t wait for the unabridged audiobook. (Here’s a picture from the reading.)

Brent Spiner’s speech was scheduled to begin at 2:00 in another room and that was fast approaching. A steady stream of people had begun to leave the book reading for that already. I like Brent Spiner’s work, but even if I wasn’t at the convention specifically for Wil Wheaton, the reading was too good to think of leaving. Since many other people were enthralled enough not to leave, we had a surprise guest. From WWdN:

My performance from Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot was awesome! The room was almost full, and I felt like the audience was “with me” the entire time. Near the end of my time, Brent Spiner walked into the room, and told me, in front of everyone, that he’d read Dancing Barefoot “cover to cover,” and that he liked it! Then he told me to wrap it up, so “these people can come over and listen to me talk.” It was really funny, and really cool.

Two pictures I took are here and here.

At the end of the reading, he announced that he’d be in the dealer auditorium to sign autographs, which was our cue to run, don’t walk to his booth.

Ok, so we walked. We were semi-self-respecting adults conforming ourselves to public standards. Besides, we had to look cool since Wil was behind us. He probably didn’t notice us, but he certainly would’ve noticed if we ran to the auditorium like a couple of dumbasses. So we walked.

While he settled into his booth, greeting people he knew along the way and chatting with his wife, we waited. When I meet celebrities, I hate to be anything other than last in line. I get self-conscious and would rather not have the added pressure of people behind me, waiting for my brain to snap back on its hinges. If we didn’t have a tight time window with just enough time to check in at New York, New York and munch at Gonzalez Y Gonzalez, I would’ve snuck my way to the back of the line. Instead, we waited in the middle, in the order that we arrived. This was ideal, I realized, because I had time to “prepare” my comments without over-rehearsing. Who knew?

The moment arrived. We focused on Wil and stepped to the table with autograph tickets in hand. “Do we give these to you,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “What would you like me to sign?”

He had pictures available, which were included in the price of the autograph (I think). He also had books available for sale, so Danielle bought a copy. Having already purchased mine, I handed it to him.

“Did you buy this in a bookstore?”


He looked at me, stood up, and stuck out his hand. “I want to shake you
r hand. Thank you so much for buying my book in a real bookstore. That’s so cool.”

Not being a published author, it struck me as quaint that a person buying your book in a store would be so shocking. When I imagine myself in his situation, as someone “washed up” in his first profession, who has found his next passion, it made sense. I liked him more than I did when we arrived in Vegas.

I began to tell him how I’ve never seen Star Trek and the rest of the story about my original impression of him. I got through my being from Virginia and that I knew an extra on Toy Soldiers. When I mentioned the title of the movie, a pained look comes over his face.

“I was an asshole to your friend, wasn’t I?”

“I believe the word he used was ‘dick’,” I said.

“Tell your friend I’m so sorry.”

Danielle speaks. “How old were you when you made that film?” I know the answer to this, only because Wil is 11&#189 months older than I am. That’s simple math for me.

“I was 18. I was a bit of an asshole to everyone at that age.”

“You were a teenager, that’s what teenagers do,” she said.

“I know, but tell your friend that I’m so sorry.”

“We were really just high school friends,” I said. I followed with the shortened version of the remaining details about how I became a Wil Wheaton reader. Anne Wheaton walked to the table and sat down next to Wil.

“Anne, this is Danielle and Tony. They came all the way from Virginia.”

She looked at us and smiled. She seemed a little timid about his enthusiasm, which we suspect is due to the crazy Star Trek stalker factor. A logical and valid concern.

She wrote a few posts for WWdN that I thought were excellent, so I compliment her on her writing ability.

“Oh, but it takes me 50 times longer to write than Wil,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You write well and that’s the key.”

“Thank you.”

Our time was up (which is why I like being in the back of the line… more time to stare at the celebrity), so we thanked Wil one more time and walked away.

As I’d learned from his writing and acting, Wil Wheaton is funny. He’s a great writer and performer. When I meet celebrities with sketchy reputations, I’m always apprehensive because I don’t want to be disappointed. Wil Wheaton did not disappoint. He exceeded my expectations. I’m happy to report that Wil Wheaton is cool.

The secret is this

Wil Wheaton was a dick. For many years, that’s what I thought, even though I’d never met him. I’d seen Stand By Me when it showed up cable. I’d even seen him on Star Trek: The Next Generation, even though that was only while flipping past whichever channel was airing it. But I knew. I knew it because it mattered that some guy, some actor, on the other side of the country was a dick. Gossip is the coinage of teenage youth. Besides, no tabloid magazine was necessary. I had a first-person account.

A few months ago, I wrote about my high school friend, John Aboud, and how he was part of the group of friends with whom I ate lunch every day. Also among that group was Grady Weatherford. Grady was a Junior that year, my Senior Year. I don’t remember how we added him to our group, but we did. And he was an actor. And during that year, he landed a role in Toy Soldiers, playing the all-important role of student. I had an “in”.

Never having worked on a movie, we quizzed Grady any day he was in school during filming of Toy Soldiers. I don’t remember who first brought up Wil Wheaton’s name. I didn’t even care about Wil Wheaton. I just wanted to learn the truth about Gordie Lachance, a.k.a. “TV’s Wil Wheaton”.

In what was inevitably a throw-away comment, we learned that Wil Wheaton was a dick. Who needs to question that? That knowledge was good enough for me. And my life continued happily for years.

While in graduate school, I spent the summer between my first and second year staying up late, playing on the new-fangled Internet, and watching random movies on cable. One night, I saw a movie called Pie in the Sky. I’d never heard of the movie, but it starred Josh Charles. Since I’d enjoyed his performances in Threesome and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, I stuck around when it came on.

So I’m watching and enjoying the movie when “that guy who I heard was a dick” showed up on screen as Jack, Charlie Dunlap’s (Josh Charles) best friend. I’m not going to describe what happened in the scene because you should watch the movie, but this is important: I laughed. So I thought “That guy’s funny. I wonder if he’s still a dick…”. Over the next few years, I watched Pie in the Sky enough to memorize most of the dialogue. Every time I watched, I always laughed at “that guy who I heard was a dick but seems to be funny”.

On November 25, 2002, I read Whitney Matheson’s Hip Clicks in USA Today. This is what she wrote:

The Onion A.V. Club interviews Wil Wheaton this week. The star of Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation also has a great Web site; if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

“Hey! It’s that guy,” I thought. I wanted to know what he might have to say. There was no investment in clicking, just satisfying a curiousity. I clicked my way to WIL WHEATON dot NET.

I first recognized that his site was set up like this new internet phenomenon I’d heard about called a weblog, or “blog” to the kids in the know. I started reading. The first post I read included this paragraph:

A few months ago, I made this major decision in my life: I would stop applying a singular focus to getting work as an actor. I would continue to accept auditions as they came along, but I wasn’t going to break my back, or sacrifice time with my friends and family to play Hollywood’s game.

“Dicks” don’t sacrifice their career for their family. Do they? I read more. And more, until I noticed a theme. He’d lived his life, faced struggles, and transformed himself into a family man/writer/actor who was not a dick. Having never met him, I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t a dick, but I could sense enough from his writing to assume the best about him. My old uninformed opinion fell away.

I bookmarked his site and checked in multiple times a day, waiting for each post. Last summer, he self-published a book, Dancing Barefoot, which I bought and read and enjoyed. When I bought Just A Geek, I jumped into the pages immediately and found a writer with a skill few writers possess: he made me laugh, out loud, while riding the subway. (I recommend Just A Geek. For a little more depth in a review, consider reviews here and here.) When a writer can do that, allow me to paraphrase a quote from Richard Bach: I hope Wil Wheaton makes a million dollars from Just A Geek.

As I said, I’ve never watched Star Trek, yet Danielle and I added an extra day to our vacation in Las Vegas when we learned that Wil Wheaton is signing autographs and performing at this weekend’s Star Trek Convention. We’ve already purchased our admission and autograph tickets, so after this
weekend, besides striking Star Trek Convention from my Crazy Things I Never Thought I’d Do&#153 list, as I did with the Miss America Pageant, I’m anxious to confirm that Wil Wheaton is not a dick, that he’s just a geek.

(Was that too much Hallmark to be David Sedaris?)