Shatnerology 121: Introduction to Shatner
Each year at the college I teach as a Sociologist, I suggest a class called "Introduction to William Shatner" and I am not joking when I say it would be a dynamic class looking at issues of from aging to Marxist theory. No, really. After reading William Shatner’s autobiography "Up Till Now," I am convinced that his life is symbolic of the United States experience. Ironic for a guy from Canada.
Shatner’s story is the classic immigrant narrative. Plus, Shatner has worked in every entertainment media possible, some at their very start, such as television. He deserves much applause because he is redefining the "senior" experience. Here is a 77 year old Shatner who is charity minded, active with his career and sports, artistically enthusiastic, and energetic. He has starred in such films as The Intruder, perhaps one of the very best films about the tragedies of racism ever made. He has also starred in some bizarre entertainments, from Incubus to Kingdom of the Spiders (Shatner visited such kingdoms before Indiana Jones).
As a self-educated Shatnologist (you can’t actually get credentialed in Shatnology in the United States by colleges or universities…I know, can you believe it?), I describe "Up Till Now" as a fun read, full of details that he has not spoken of before or often. For example, Shatner’s first trip to the United States from Canada was by the unlikely transportation mode of canoe. He talks about the making of plays and films. His interactions with George C. Scott and Lorne Greene are intriguing, especially how Greene’s (the original Commander Adama of Battlestar Galactica) stock advice about uranium cost Shatner his entire life savings of $500. The best thing from a Shatnologist perspective is how much a promise to his father defines who Shatner is an actor and a person.
That isn’t to say the book isn’t without problems. First, the style features an annoying habit, usually two or more times a chapter, of interrupting the narrative with often ridiculous asides and pithy notions. He is telling a good story, then he stops literally in the middle of a sentence and then…Do you like sociology? I do. You can take classes at your college. I really enjoy teaching sociology. Visit my website. Buy my stuff. Ha, isn’t this funny? I am stopping my narrative to show how pithy I am….continues with the narrative. If the theory was this style shows how active Shatner is, it doesn’t work. If it was trying to be funny, it really isn’t. This could be the fault of Shatner’s co-writer for "Up Till Now," David Fisher. Chris Kreski, who worked with Shatner on his previous Star Trek related memoirs, had a much better sense of Shatner’s voice.
The book also doesn’t really say much that is new about Star Trek. To be fair, this is probably a good thing because he has dealt with this topic before in three previous Trek memoirswith great detail. However, there are Trek themes that are emotional and effective, and there is some new revelations. Shatner has great affection for Kirk and Star Trek, obvious by his confusion at the end of the book between himself and Kirk. He talks about how the next Star Trek film doesn’t have Kirk in it, when what he really means is that Shatner isn’t featured. I found this to be charming, actually. Without being too obvious, the book shows how much Leonard Nimoy’s experiences parallel Shatner’s experiences. From Jewish kids growing up during the depression to their acting, their biographies are a romance of friendship and love. It is nice to know that Shatner and Nimoy are best friends. The book details how Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy’s relationship was strained due to financial considerations, with the producer wanting to represent Nimoy for public appearances taking 20% according to Nimoy, and Nimoy not agreeing to the deal because he already had an agent. "Up Till Now" is honest, yet Shatner usually reserves most negative talk about himself. Although, as with the Roddenberry story, the book unfortunately isn’t completely free of salacious details.
Should you buy this book? Well it depends. If you are a Shatnologist, or a fan of Shatner who wishes to learn more about his experiences, then defiantly yes. If you are a Star Trek fan who wants to get Shatner’s behind-the-scenes perspective, then this is a good read and summarizes Trek well. However you may be better off with Shatner’s previous three Trek memoirs: "Star Trek Memories" (which is being re-released this autumn), "Star Trek Movie Memories" and "Get a Life!" And if you don’t Shatner, then why are you even reading this review?
On a personal note, Shatner has provided so much entertainment to myself, my wife, and my son with Star Trek and his various roles. Shatner is always good for a smile or a tear, depending on the character or the situation. We have been at conventions where he makes the audience laugh or lectures where he makes them cry. He is a real entertainer, and there are few actors who can claim such a pedigree as him. Shatner is a role model because by every account of friends and family, from Henry Rollins to Brad Paisley, he accomplishes more in the first few hours of his day than most people do in a week (Chuck Norris, you got nothing on the Shat). During the documentary Shatner in Concert, his son in law describes how he can be enthusiastic and express real joy in the most mundane things. "Lemonade! This the BEST lemonade!" Wouldn’t it be nice we could all be as appreciative. He has brought joy and adventure to us as Captain Kirk, and played no small role in making Star Trek a phenom. The book celebrates much of what makes Shatner great despite some of its flaws. It isn’t a self help book, yet it can help you be enthusiastic about your own lemonade.
Up Till Now is available now in Hardcover and audio
|Up Till Now (Hardcover)||Up Till Now (Audio)|