Rick Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes from the 21st Century (Monkeybrain, 2003)
I have several stacks of books at home. One stack consists of books that I want to read. Another stack consists of books that I need to read, and yet a third consists of books that I haven't read and probably won't read, but I keep around because I suppose I'm an optimist at heart. The reason why these stacks are as obscenely tall as they are is because I love books and love to read, but simply don't have enough hours in the day to keep up with everything I want to.
So when I got Rick Klaw's new book, Geek Confidential: Echoes from the 21st Century, I had no intention of making it a priority. Too many books were queued up ahead of it, all clamoring for attention. Plus, I'd already read most of the columns contained within its covers when they originally ran on SFSite.com, as part of Rick's wildly popular monthly "Geeks With Books" column. And, in the sense of full disclosure, I even bought one of the articles "Doubly Blessed" while I was managing editor of South Texas Health & Fitness Magazine. So I had no real inclination, or even need, to read the book right away. But out of curiosity, I flipped through the first few pages, just to see what kind of package Klaw had managed to put together.
The next thing I know, it's well after midnight and my eyes are burning and bleary. I can think of no better compliment than this: Geek Confidential sucked me in and refused to let go despite my best resistance. I happily re-read every column Klaw served up, chuckled at the same jokes, nodded in agreement at the same anectdotes, and then turned the page, saying, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"
Geek Confidential is eminently readable, a running monologue on everything from the inner workings of bookstores and comic creation to political theory and the unbridled joy giant gorillas bring to popular culture. And while Klaw is as full of crap as any other columnist out there who's decided to compile an assortment of articles in book form, at least Klaw is aware that he's full of crap, and gleefully acknowledges the fact. Don't look for self-importance here, because you won't find it. Klaw never takes himself too seriously, and more often than not the reader can almost feel his knowing wink and nudge come at you off the page.
That's not to diminish the content any, however. Chapters titled "Stupid Publisher Tricks," "Death Threats, Banned Books and Other Facts of Life" and "Another Person's Treasure" are particular highlights, touching on different aspects of publishing and bookselling. Pretty much everything in the book is interesting to some degree, and some revelations are downright fascinating:
"What is the most commonly stolen book? The object that sets a thief's pulse racing and makes their palms sweaty? The Bible. Yep, the Bible is the single most shoplifted book. All versions. King James, New International, Catholic; doesn't seem to matter."
There's also "The Secret History of Weird Business," in which Klaw relates the fascinating story behind the groundbreaking magnum opus graphic novel he co-edited with Joe R. Lansdale, incidentally helping found Mojo Press in the process:
"Lansdale thought it would be cool if someone produced a comic book anthology with some of the biggest names in fantasy and horror fiction. This was in 1994, before the comic collapse of the late nineties, and the only thing hotter than comics was the sun. Always one to seize an opportunity, I suggested that we edit the anthology. I figured that with Lansdale's connections and my savvy, we could create one kick ass book."
Klaw also includes informative and relaxed interviews with authors Neal Barrett, Jr. and Mark Danielewski, Tor Books publisher Tom Doherty and master fantasist Michael Moorcock here, which serve as added bonuses. Rick, the reader will soon piece together, knows just about everybody associated with books or comics, and wastes little time in crediting the likes of Moorcock, Joe R. Lansdale and Louis Shiner for their help and influence on his career. Sure, it may get a little tiresome reading "Have I mentioned the influence Moorcock has had on my career?" for the twentieth time, but when you get to Klaw's hilarious comic adaptation of the Lansdale classic "Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland," as illustrated by Doug Potter, well, friends and neighbors, it doesn't get any better than this.
Of course, no book is without flaws, and Geek Confidential is no exception. The compilation's patchwork nature makes reading a choppy experience, and is probably best taken in small bites rather than a single marathon reading. And more than a few articles here read as if Klaw's train of thought was truncated possibly a reflection of the space limitations the original columns faced. It'd have been nice to see Klaw go back and more fully flesh out some other ideas he'd developed, or pursue tangential threads more aggressively.
But these complaints are merely nigglings when compared to the overall fun of the book as a whole. How much fun, you ask? Well, who'd have ever known that Michael Moorcock is a huge Captain Marvel, aka SHAZAM!, fan? Not I. At least, not until I read Geek Confidential, and that kind of silly, geeky pleasure doesn't come around every day. When it does, it should be embraced, as should this book.
[Jayme Lynn Blaschke]