Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Aug. 22, 2009.
Nerds, geeks, dweebs and dorks have been warring for decades now. Although most people use the terms interchangeably, the few who proudly claim such labels usually draw very clear distinctions.
• Nerds typically show some degree of blending between intelligence, obsession and social ineptitude.
• Geeks usually show their intelligence and obsession, but are not necessarily socially inept.
• Dweebs usually show their social ineptitude and intelligence, but are necessarily obsessive.
• And dorks are obsessive and socially inept without being necessarily intelligent.
However you may fall on the nerd-geek-dweeb-dork spectrum -- and we all fall somewhere on it -- Prairie Lights Bookstore is giving several opportunities for some inner-nerd soul-searching this season.
• The fall reading list kicks off Sept. 2 with Benjamin Nugent, author of the "American Nerd: The Story of My People." In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it "a charming and disarmingly serious study of the history of the nerd in popular culture and throughout modern history." Nugent moves beyond the expected sci-fi fandom to dismantle many of the Jewish and Asian stereotypes attached to the term. (Beware: Nugent also dismisses hipster nerds as posers who have co-opted authentic nerdiness for their own sake.)
• A geek-nerd summit of sorts can take place Sept. 14 when Nicholas Meyer reads from his new memoir, "The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood."
Meyer reportedly wrote the best Star Trek film of all time -- "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" -- in a mere 12 days. And his involvement with several other Star Trek projects will allow him to provide interesting answers to questions from even the most obsessive fan.
• On Oct. 16, the spectrum moves beyond its American context when Ethan Gilsdorf reads from his study of fantasy role games played around the world, "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks." Fellow author A.J. Jacobs calls it "a delightful book -- more fun than being a Dungeon Master to a group of high-level mages and thieves."
• On Oct. 19, Lawrence Sutin, author of "Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick," comes to read from his new novel, "When to Go into the Water: A Novel." The short book is being described as "experimental fiction" -- Prairie Lights book guru Paul Ingram said it doesn't even look like a novel -- but Booklist calls it "quite accessible and drolly absorbing."
• And on Nov. 2, Prairie Lights will hold a celebration for the 50th anniversary of William S. Burroughs' still controversial novel, "Naked Lunch" -- one of the landmark publications in the history of American literature. The book was originally banned in many regions of the United States because of its "obscene" language, but it's gone on to become an important cultural touchstone for anyone who refuses to fit into the dominant, consumerist social order.
Although all the authors and poets on the Prairie Lights schedule will fall somewhere on the spectrum, these five readings will help make the denizens of our City of Literature uncomfortably aware of just how nerdy, geeky, dweeby and dorky we all can be.
Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-887-5435. A full list of readings at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., can be found at www.prairielights.com.