For roughly the past decade, Simon Pegg has done a great job at positioning himself as the nerd whom all nerds dream of being. His television and film career looks like a series of examples of how to turn appreciation into homage into popular art, from Spaced to Shaun Of The Dead to Star Trek and beyond. He’s good-looking without being imposing, respectful and appreciative to his fans while still maintaining a basic level of cool, and he slags off the Star Wars prequels while getting paid for it. In Pegg’s new book, Nerd Do Well, he does his best to capture this precarious balance of maintaining coolness in a social group in which coolness is considered a mark of the outsider. He partially succeeds. Nerd does a great job of confirming Pegg’s status as an affable geek living out his wildest dreams, and that affability goes a long way toward preventing the memoir from turning into a 390-page-plus humble-brag.
The problem is that Nerd doesn’t work well as a narrative. Few memoirs achieve a novel’s width and breadth of story arc, but the great ones at least string together a series of memorable incidents into the illusion of rising action. Nerd isn’t even really a memoir. There’s no hard-and-fast rule setting the appropriate age for penning an autobiography, but as Pegg is in his early 40s, and had a childhood free from any overly exciting strife, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the book to exist in the first place. With that handicap firmly in place from the start, Nerd needed to find some other reason for being, either as an outlet for Pegg to talk about his relationship with popular culture, or as a series of humorous essays about his youth and early career.
The book tries to balance both these ideas, and it’s at its most entertaining when Pegg dissects his beloved Star Wars, or explains why slow zombies are better than fast ones. Less enjoyable are his reminisces about growing up and his attempts to pinpoint the early experiences that drove his later career. Whether because Pegg lacks the perspective to winnow out the wheat from the chaff, or simply due to the lack of a strong editorial hand, these passages are digressive and ill-defined. They tend to blur together, as Pegg doesn’t bother to arrange them in anything but a rough chronological order. This is especially problematic considering that this material takes up at least three-quarters of Nerd. Pegg is an enthusiastic writer, engaging and funny at his best, and his unwillingness to trade in industry gossip is laudable. But while it’s impressive how far he’s come in his career, that isn’t enough to justify roughly 30 chapters on a generally pleasant adolescence. Pegg should know better than most: Fans want Death Stars and Darth Vaders, not the mopey teen with a lightsaber fetish.