Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Self Help for the Rest of Us: "The Nerdist Way"

First, an apology for the long absence. I don't want to be all "life's been crazy!" but, well, life's been crazy. I'm now writing reviews for Chicago Theater Beat as well as blogging for RedEye and I just started a new full-time job. Also I'm taking the NaNoWriMo plunge again (maybeimamazed02 on the NaNo site if you want to be writing buddies) because I'm just that much of a nerd. 

And speaking of nerds, I'm jumping back into the Unpro with a review of The Nerdist Way! This ain't your momma's self-help book, I tell you what. Read on:

I was never the biggest fan of Singled Out, mainly because of Jenny McCarthy's never-closing mouth. I always wondered how many flies she swallowed during her tenure on MTV's finest dating show. Meaning I didn't remember her co-host Chris Hardwick was until I heard he interviewed Joel McHale for his podcast, The Nerdist. As I love all things McHale, I tuned in and was hooked on Hardwick's geeky enthusiasm for movies, video games, the celebrities he was interviewing and...a lot of other things.

I recognized that obsessive need to know every detail about something you like. There's a name for us folks. That name is nerd. And in his very first book The Nerdist Way, Hardwick turns self-help on its awkwardly focused little head, outlining everything from healthier eating to positive-r thinking for everyone out there who got beat up in junior high for singing show tunes (me) or playing D&D (so many of the men in my life) or knowing just a bit more than everyone else.

Chris Hardwick's a study in reinvention. A bowling champion's offspring, a Catholic school alum (represent!) and the former roommate of Wil Wheaton, Hardwick fell into an MTV career in his early twenties. By his late twenties, however, Hardwick had hit bottom: he worked only sporadically, drank very heavily and became a borderline recluse. Since then he's turned things around. He cut back on the beer, started working out and lost a lot of weight. He's got a happening stand-up and writing career, and in 2008 launched the blog, which has since grown into a podcast and television show (cohosted by cohorts Jonah Ray and Matt Mira), and now a pretty decent self-help book that doesn't ask you anything about parachutes.

When I heard on the Nerdist podcast (oh yeah, he's also interviewed Tom Lennon and Ben Garant - download it! Tom's hilarious and Ben gets all riled up like the good ole Southern boy he is) that Hardwick was penning a tome, I used my super blogger powers (aka Google) to request a review copy. I came, I saw, I read.

I like!

Though I'm a big advocate of self-help actions (e.g. therapy, physical activity, healthy eating), I'm not a fan of the books. (Yes, I read a poem from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul in my valedictory speech. I was seventeen. I didn't know any better.) I felt differently about The Nerdist Way. Chris Hardwick reminds me of the dudes I was friends with in high school, like my artist classmate who gave me movie trivia books, my speech team and dance partner who shared my penchant for broad humor and double pirouettes and my Star Trek-obsessed buddy who taped South Park for me when I asked nicely. He's accessible. He's funny. He not only owns his nerdiness but has turned it into a career. He hit bottom - as we all do at certain points in our lives - and turned it around all by himself. And now he instructs readers on everything from decision-making to cleaning up credit scores to bench-pressing.

Regarding the latter, I could have done without the pages and pages of detailed workout tips. Then again, I have an established fitness routine already (burlesque, yoga, walking) and I realize those pages could be extremely useful to someone else. Just like people who didn't grow up Catholic might not recognize how hard it can be to enjoy when good things happen - rather than forever waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know this feeling. God, do I know it. I just didn't realize I wasn't alone in this thought process and I appreciated not only Hardwick's empathy but his tips on how to combat it.

Also, the chapters on creative productivity are excellent. As a full-time employee and part-time arteeste, I regularly beat my schedule into submission - but it's hard not to get tempted by cat videos and Reno 911 DVDs. Or that issue of Cosmo taunting me from the other side of the library. When I read Hardwick's tips on maximizing one's free time, I felt relieved I was doing something right - and I learned the difference between "good busy" and "bad busy."

Finally, Hardwick instructs readers how to use the "evil genius" method to achieve goals. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say having a celebrity crush can be totally helpful. Hardwick's theory revolves around channeling sexual energy into motivation. Did you hear that? I AM VALIDATED, Y'ALL! Little did I know that my dorky fixations on Garant, McHale and various other high-profile gentlemen with snarky barbs and cute butts can actually serve a purpose! Hardwick's so getting a hug for that, should I ever meet him.

So yeah, I recommend The Nerdist Way. Jocks be damned. Like evil geniuses who stop at nothing to get what they want, nerds are doing it for themselves - in a nicer way, of course.