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On Reading Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture

September 17, 2011

224 pp. Quirk Publishing. Image Source: ThinkGeek.com

Title: Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture

Authors: N. K. Jemisin (Author), Genevieve Valentine (Author), Eric San Juan (Author), Zaki Hasan (Author), Stephen H. Segal (Editor)

Publication Year: 2011

Pages: 224

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Review copy from author

I have always loved being around geeks, and thanks to this book, I now know why. Geeks offer an insight into the world that is shaped by the love for knowledge for the sake of knowledge, the humility that comes with being an outsider, and the authenticity that comes with a disavowal for what is mainstream.

The very title of this book attests to the fact that there is a sacred element in geekdom, and this is the element that spoke to me personally. In the introduction to this book of quotations from cult classic films, literature, comic book legends, and even internet memes, the co-authors talk about “a framework of ideas–a body of thought shared by a community, written and handed down through literature–that’s intended to guide us toward maturity by helping us ask and answer the big, cosmic questions about existence.” And get this: they’re talking about traditional religious texts and how such narratives answer these questions. They continue by saying

The stories in each [religious] tradition . . . ultimately boil down to this: Hey, show some respect for the universe, because it’s a whole lot bigger than you. You know what? Religion isn’t the only place to find those kinds of stories . . . . Hence Geek Wisdom: The first compendium of sacred teachings from the wide-ranging “holy scriptures” of geekdom, that weird mass of pop culture and high art ranging from blockbuster movies to esoteric novels to cult-classic T-shirt slogans.

There could have been no better case made for the collection of quotes that followed and made up the bulk of this book. Drawing on a century’s worth of enduring quotes from films, comic books, TV shows, video games, and literature from the Western canon, the authors comment on what it is that makes each quote a sacrament.

For me these quotes fell into the following camps:

Quotes that already had cemented such a such a permanent place in my heart that seeing them as a part of this collection took my breath away: “Specialization is for insects.” “So it goes.” “I can has cheezburger?”

Quotes that I remembered hearing and wondering about on at least one occasion, and learned more about here: “Wax on, wax off.” “Knowing is half the battle!”

Quotes I didn’t remember, but loved learning about because they were from sources I was familiar with: “Two and two make five.” “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”

It also went the other way around with quotes that I had never heard and whose sources I wasn’t too well-acquainted with, but nevertheless moved me deeply or gave me the chills: “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.” “You–You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” “Soylent Green is made out of people.”

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not like each quote and its commentary was a blazingly brilliant supernova in itself. There were also quotes that I didn’t understand and thus their commentary didn’t resonate with me. On that note, there were also a few times that the commentary felt to me a bit deflated, like it was taking away from the quote rather than adding on to it. Those instances, fortunately, were extremely rare. Plus, when it comes to quotes that make up the stuff of cultural currency, no amount of meta-thought and musing can be nearly as good as the original thing.

The authors may be proud to be the curators and vessels of this wisdom, but esoteric as their knowledge and opinions are, they never resort to being arrogant guardians of geek legacy. While celebrating geek wisdom, the book is incredibly self aware of where geekiness falls short of the ideal. For example, the authors poke fun at the geeks who take themselves way too seriously, and they address the issues of female objectification and racism. In a world populated by geeks who think they are the universe’s gift to the intellectual world, it is difficult not to appreciate writers who readily acknowledge the shortcomings of the very culture they were born out of.

This book made me realize that true geekdom has to do with being in awe of the universe and intellectual world we live in. This was the connection to the sacred that was made in the introduction of the book. There is a humility that comes out of that awe, and perhaps if the writers made a more direct connection to how the lack of that humility falls radically short of being a true geek, their critique of pseudo-geeks on their high unicorns (or gargoyles, or whatever) would have really cinched it. To me, anyway.

Above all, however, this book celebrates being different, being original, having esoteric passions and sensibilities, and being the kid who stayed holed up in her room reading on weekend nights while the other kids from high school shopped, gossiped, and went to parties. To such a kid, this book is home. This book is not perfect, but it will always be your non-judgemental, quirky, Star Wars-watching, fiercely loyal friend. If you have such a friend, or if you are that kind of friend, don’t just read this book. Buy it.

This book isn’t something that will rot on the shelf and be donated to the library the next time it is noticed. It is more than a collection of quotes: it is a guide for what to see, what to read, to feel like you are standing on the shoulders of giants. It is a portal into the the place where knowledge and soul-enriching art and yes, the sacred, intersect. And let me tell you, that’s one good place to be.

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