Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg
The dividing line between my furious childhood and my equally, if more problematically, furious adolescence (which I like to call the Wombat Years) is, undoubtedly, my preteen travels, a series of trips where I was essentially a large piece of angry luggage. (Anger was a big theme for the young Clare.) I really hate talking about it, as I feel like any way I try to express what a negative impact it had on me is either going to sound incredibly selfish (“Poor me! I had to travel as a child!”) or incredibly ungrateful (“How could my parents take me along with them?”). Instead of trying to navigate those waters, my coping mechanism has been repression. For the life of me, I could not tell you dates or locations; it’s just a blur of painful homesickness, fatigue, and endless waiting. (And anger, obviously, but that wasn’t a related condition, just a constant one.)
What I do remember, from around the same time, is going to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with my father and brother in the December of 2002 on, excitedly, a school night. They told me we were going to go see Maid in Manhattan, at which I protested, but not enough, so we all piled into the car and drove to the town over, to a movie theater that is currently famous in my hometown for having had a rat infestation. But this was before all of that. The theater was so full that they lined up us in the hall outside the theater, the first time I’d ever queued for something I desperately wanted. I was quiet, as always, but radiant with excitement and expectation, standing in the sneakers I never changed on the red carpeting. The theater was so packed we had to sit in the front two rows and I was wedged between two large gentlemen—my father on the left and a stranger on the right. I turned my face up, brushed my bangs out of my eyes, and soaked it all in, blissful and trusting.
The difference between these two memories is emotional significance, as Simon Pegg points out in Nerd Do Well, when he recalls precisely the moment he heard that Raiders of the Lost Ark was a thing. Feeling like a ghost in my parents’ lives? There’s not much I can do with that, so out it goes. The moment I encountered Éowyn for the first time? That’s burned in, friends.
Moments like this are the bulk of Nerd Do Well, apart from the considerable padding of a flimsy superhero/thriller parody. (It has its moments, but it’s not terrifically interesting on its own.) While Pegg lacks a little of the vocabulary of current fandom—he defines geekery and nerdery by what you’re into, not how you’re into, as current thinking goes—he is, emphatically, one of us. This makes the book, once the parody is removed from it, something unique. I’m going to call it “the fannish memoir”. Instead of going chronologically (though he does his best), Nerd Do Well is organized by important moments in Pegg’s life. Several of these are the more usual sort—falling in love for the first time and such—but most are those blissful, fannish moments, when you meet and fall in love with a text. After being put under for a surgery as a child, Pegg wakes up when he hears another child on the ward watching Star Wars.
And then there are the moments when you grow up to dissect it and derive even richer enjoyment and knowledge from it. In interviews, Pegg has mentioned his college thesis, “Base and Supersucker: A Marxist Overview of Consent in Star Wars and Related Works,” and there’s a whole chapter defending analyzing pop culture and discussing the thesis. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Pegg is more interested in instances of circularity, though, focusing on moments that, if only the child Pegg knew he would, for instance, one day work with Steven Spielberg after loving Raiders of the Ark so much, would blow his little mind.
And therein we run into the roadblock of Nerd Do Well. Pegg is acutely uncomfortable discussing his private life, hence the padding, although he eases into it. He also doesn’t want to discuss his professional life too much. If you were hoping for tales of fun on the set of Star Trek (or anything else he’s done), you won’t get it. We breeze through his years as a stand-up and Spaced is introduced as an established show. Pegg obviously doesn’t want to step on any toes, which is admirable, but the problem is that the conceit of circularity requires him to at least mention some of the highlights from his career. So things are brought up and not really delved into.
This results in a mixed bag; Pegg’s writing voice is clearly his (I bet the audiobook version of this is a right laugh) and there are some lovely passages here, such as his contemplation of destiny and friendship. But he shies away from too much and the padding disguises how thin it is. Alas. Perhaps one day, when the NDAs expire, I will have my true story of what happened on the set of Star Trek Into Darkness. (John Cho has been throwing shade right and left. I want to know what happened!) But I don’t think Pegg will be the one to tell it…
Bottom line: Nerd Do Well is a fannish memoir, focusing on important moments in Pegg’s life rather than a chronology. Unfortunately, shying away from saying much of anything about his professional life means that it’s a bit thin, and the padding doesn’t help. If you’d like.
I rented this book from the public library.