Sunday, December 18, 2011
American Nerd, The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent
Why I read it: Fear that I might be one of his people.
Summary: The author takes us on a journey through his life as a nerd, tracking down the creature in all its current forms, while delivering a history of the species, and the etymology of the word itself.
My Thoughts: I wonder if I ever ran into Benjamin Nugent. While the dates are fuzzy, he does allude to growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts, and coming of age in the same time period I was a student there at the University of Massachusetts. While we would never have intentionally crossed paths - I was heavily into my college studies and he was a pre-teen playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends - I wouldn't be surprised for a minute to find that we had passed each other in one of the local malls or in downtown Amherst. But I digress...
What this book did to me was make me wonder where I fall on the nerd/jock spectrum. Let's face it - I'm writing a blog about the books I read. Nerdy. On the other hand, I work out at the gym every day for a full hour. Score one for the jocks. I played Dungeons & Dragons for hours on end as a kid. Nerd! But I also stood out in hockey, baseball and wrestling as a kid. Jock! I lead nature walks and share my knowledge about birds, salamanders and other creatures, but often climb mountains to do so. I write books, but sometimes they're about trail walking endurance challenges I put myself through. In some ways, I feel like I've gotten the best of both worlds. I love a mental challenge as much I do a physical one. That's it! I'm a Renaissance man. Too bad the Renaissance was four hundred years ago.
Nugent, though, writes with an underlying anger that lets us know that his childhood nerddom and what it made him do to friends in the long run (forsaking some for the chance at being seen as cool) still torments his soul. He's mad that he was ever a nerd, and tries to find someone to blame for letting him be that way. But being a nerd is not a choice. You either are or are not.
In the end, though, the nerds usually win in life. Say what you want about Bill Gates, but he won't hear you sitting way up there atop his humoungous pile of money. Exercising the mind at a young age - debating, studying, reading, learning - can lead to being a nerd, but it also gives one a leg up when the competition becomes real, away from the bullshit cliques and social pressures of high school.
So where do I stand? Half nerd, half jock, fully proud.