As a card carrying member of Generation X, I grew up watching a lot of cable TV. Sometimes, I also went to the movies. In fact, I went to the movies a lot more often in those days than I do today. In any case, at some point in my adolescence, I saw the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me. Based on a spooky novella by Stephen King, Stand By Me was a coming of age film starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell. They were four 1959 era twelve year old boys from Castlerock, Oregon, who set out on a mission to see a dead body. On their way to find the body, the boys bond and have some near misses with both nature and technology.
As most of Stephen King’s stories are, this one– originally known as “The Body”– was very poignant, compelling, and sometimes even funny. It also had four teenaged stars in it who were about my age. Most of my peers loved River Phoenix, who was an up and coming star. Tragically, he died in 1993 at just 21 years old, a victim of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. I was telling Bill last night that if River had lived beyond young adulthood, he would have been an enormous star.
I liked River fine, but Wil Wheaton’s performance in Stand By Me was the one that always stuck with me. He played the sensitive, thoughtful, aspiring writer, Gordie Lachance. I identified with Gordie, because I had my own aspirations of becoming a writer. In those days, I wrote a lot of fiction. Also, my journalism teacher in tenth grade was named Mr. LaChance, and I liked him, and that class. I probably should have stuck with journalism.
Stand By Me was probably the only vehicle of which I’ve seen much of Wil Wheaton’s acting, except for maybe guest spots on 80s era television shows. I see he was a guest on Family Ties, which was one of my favorite shows, back in the day. He was also on St. Elsewhere, although I didn’t really watch that show, because it was on past my bedtime. He was on Tales from the Crypt, which was a great HBO show I watched when I had the opportunity, and he voiced Martin in the film, The Secret of NIMH. Wheaton also famously played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, Wesley Crusher was aptly named, because based on Wheaton’s book, Still Just a Geek, it seems that he wasn’t very well received in that role. I have no opinion on that, since I never watched the original Star Trek, let alone the reincarnations. I don’t know why I never watched it. Bill is a huge fan. Star Trek just never appealed to me.
Some time ago, someone turned me on to Wil Wheaton’s Facebook page. I started following it, and decided I kind of liked Wil. He seems like a basically normal, decent man who happens to work in the entertainment industry. He’s also a writer and award winning narrator. And, as a fellow child of 1972, I relate to a lot of what he posts on social media. We’re from the same era.
I was following Wil’s page when he started promoting his book, Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir. I ended up downloading it around the time it was released last spring, but I didn’t get around to reading it until I read Jennette McCurdy’s book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. I figured Wheaton’s book would be a good follow up to McCurdy’s book about her “crazy” mother and chaotic upbringing in show business, against her will. Wil Wheaton has openly said that he went “no contact” with his parents, and had never actually wanted to be a child actor. Wheaton has maintained that it was his mother who had wanted to be an actress, and she pressured her children to go into the business. Wil happened to have talent, just as Jennette McCurdy did, and in the mid 80s, he was a household name. But what he really wanted to do was be a kid. He’s also found that writing is his true passion, just as Jennette has.
So anyway, it was Jennette McCurdy who prompted me to read Wil’s book, Still Just a Geek. Still Just a Geek is based on Wil’s first book, Just a Geek, which came out in 2004 and apparently didn’t sell well. He includes the original book in this book, along with annotations– explanations, contextual notes, and sometimes revised opinions of his that have changed since 2004. After the first book, Wheaton continues with chapters about his life today. A lot has changed since 2004, which it’s bound to do. In 2004, he was a young man, married to his wife Anne, and stepfather to her young sons from another relationship. In 2022, he’s still married to Anne, and has legally adopted Anne’s now adult sons, Nolan and Ryan. They changed their last names and everything. Wil has also stopped drinking alcohol– circa 2016– so some of what he wrote in 2004 doesn’t apply to his lifestyle today.
To be honest, I’m left with some mixed feelings about this book. I thought it was mostly very well written. I appreciated how candid Wheaton is, although there were times when I wish he’d shared more of the original stories that prompted some of his conclusions. For example, in the original book, it’s clear that Wil sees himself as his sons’ stepfather. He refers to himself in that way, although he also mentions that their bio father was a real jerk. He vaguely mentions that their bio father kept taking Anne to court for custody, and implies that he’s a shithead for doing that. Now… I don’t know much at all about Anne, other than seeing her in some photos with Wil, and reading his gushing comments about her. And, God knows, I totally understand about being the second spouse of someone who has a narcissistic or abusive former spouse.
Because I’m a second wife, I am not so quick to automatically accept what people say or write about their exes (and just to be clear, I get that not everyone believes me when I rail about Ex in my blog). In my case, I wasn’t allowed to be a stepmother to my husband’s daughters, and he wasn’t allowed to be his kids’ “everyday dad”. And he was painted as a horrible, abusive monster to his daughters, which just plain isn’t true at all. Wil never explains much about Anne’s ex, other than to write that he’s a bad person. And, for all I know, he really is a shitty person, and Nolan and Ryan were totally right to ask Wil to be their legal dad.
On the other hand, Wil is himself estranged from his own father, claiming that his dad has always been abusive and negligent toward him. He doesn’t write a lot about that, either, at least not in this book. However, Wil did write a few passages that indicated to me that his father wasn’t all bad. Like, for instance, he wrote about his father’s touching reaction to Wil’s grandfather’s death, and how Wil realized that one day, he would be mourning his own father’s passing. That was in 2004, though, before he had ceased contact with his dad. So, I guess I just wish he’d provided more context to both of those stories, and the one involving his stepsons who are now his sons. Maybe it’s not my business– but if it’s not my business, it probably shouldn’t have been included in this book. I can, by the way, also relate to Wil’s having a rocky relationship with his dad. I had a rocky relationship with my dad, too, although we were never really estranged. I understand that going “no contact” is sometimes necessary for one’s sanity, but I also think it’s something that should be done as a last resort.
The footnotes were a bit distracting for me, although reading on Kindle gives readers the choice to read them or not. I enjoyed Wil’s notes, especially when they were funny or provided context. Sometimes, though, I found some of Wheaton’s comments a little annoying and self- indulgent. It stands to reason that people try to present themselves in the best possible light, even when they admit to not being their best. Wheaton provides quite a few examples of when he sometimes acted like a jerk, as we all do sometimes. However, there were a few times when I wanted him to just state, “I was a jerk,” and not make any excuses for being a jerk. He apologizes a lot for acting the way most of us did in less enlightened times. It gets tiresome after awhile, and doesn’t always ring as sincere. Sometimes, it felt like he was trying too hard to be sensitive and “woke”, and it came across as a little fake to me. I sense this on his Facebook page, too, especially when he posts about certain issues– like the pandemic, and how we should all be handling it. Some of his comments come across to me as more like what he believes he “should” be thinking instead of what he actually thinks, if that makes sense.
I did enjoy reading about Wheaton’s experiences making Stand By Me, which I still think is a fabulous film. I couldn’t relate to his comments about Wesley Crusher, although I do know who William Shatner is. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me cringe a bit for Wheaton… Shatner was allegedly quite the asshole to Wil. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me glad I was never a Star Trek fan. I also liked reading about Wil’s experiences being a computer geek in the 80s. I wasn’t a computer geek then, but I did have a friend who was one. And some of what he writes about his experiences with BASIC and other computer languages remind me of the time when I still counted my former friend as my best friend. Those were fun times, before reality set in, and I realized she wasn’t actually a good friend, after all.
At the end of the book, Wheaton includes some interviews and speeches he’s given, along with a couple of “Ask Me Anything” posts he did. To be honest, I kind of skimmed through most of that stuff, because speeches are meant to be heard, and aren’t that much fun to read. I did notice that the fresh content of this book comprises only about thirty percent of the book. The rest of it is old stuff cobbled together into this volume. That was okay for me, since I never read the first book, and I’ve not followed his career closely. Super fans who pay a lot of attention to what Wil’s been doing his whole life might be disappointed by Still Just a Geek. I see some Amazon reviewers have given Wil low ratings and claimed he’s not a good writer. I disagree with that. I think Wil’s writing is fine. I just wish he’d written something fresh, and included fewer footnotes, which can be very distracting. And I wish he’d just write his story and explain why he has so much animosity toward his parents and his wife’s ex. I get that they’re personal stories, and maybe he’s already explained elsewhere. But in Still Just a Geek, he makes many references to those people without really explaining his feelings behind the negative comments. I was left a little confused and wanting more information.
And finally, I admire Wil for reinventing his career, doing what he wants to do, making healthy choices, and loving his wife and sons so much. I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of 5 and would recommend it to those who haven’t read Still a Geek and are interested in Wil Wheaton’s story. I think it will particularly appeal to those who care about Star Trek, which I don’t. But I was sincerely interested in the parts about Stand By Me, and enjoyed reading those sections.
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