Book Talk: LUKE SKYWALKER CAN’T READ, by Ryan Britt

Plume (November 2015), trade paper (ISBN 0147517575 / 9780147517579)
Nonfiction: pop culture/essays, 224 pages
Source: publisher

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book discussion LUKE SKYWALKER CAN'T READ Ryan Britt essays
Just in time for the release of the seventh Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, Ryan Britt discusses this and other cornerstones of over fifty years of nerd culture in a collection of smart and occasionally snarky essays, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: And Other Geeky Truths.

The title essay argues that every character in the Star Wars universe is functionally illiterate with supporting examples and by compare-and-contrast with the Shakespeare-quoting, Dickens-referencing denizens of the various versions of Star Trek. Britt makes the rounds of the major science-fiction and fantasy fandoms–the aforementioned Stars Wars and Trek, Doctor Who, Back to the Future, The Lord of the Rings–with asides for robots, classic horror, comic-book superheroes, and Sherlock Holmes. Nerd culture has grown, thrived, and become de-stigmatized through many of these works, and Britt’s own growth into adulthood coincided with its shift to dominance over the wider realm of pop culture.
Britt knows his subject matter well and conveys his perspectives on it smartly, with a solid sense of his own voice. He’s also quite aware that there’s no shortage of other perspectives and opinions in the realm of nerd culture; nerd culture thrives on opinions and differences of opinion. A geeky book club could debate some of Britt’s topics for days, and have tremendous fun doing it. I wish I were in that book club, frankly.

I jumped at the opportunity when I got the chance to review this for Shelf Awareness, but didn’t read it fast enough to meet their deadline. However, I did get through it with several weeks to spare before opening weekend of The Force Awakens, and if you need something to get you even more ready for that, you can do something even Luke Skywalker can’t: read this book.

Pop Culture and sci-fi guru Ryan Britt has never met a monster, alien, wizard, or superhero that didn’t need further analysis.

“Britt got a sex education from dirty pictures of dinosaurs, made out with Jar-Jar Binks at midnight, and figured out how to kick depression with a Doctor Who Netflix-binge. Alternating between personal anecdote, hilarious insight, and smart analysis,Luke Skywalker Can’t Read contends that Barbarella is good for you, that monster movies are just romantic comedies with commitment issues, that Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are total hipsters, and, most shockingly, shows how virtually everyone in the Star Wars universe is functionally illiterate.

“Romp through time and space, from the circus sideshows of 100 years ago to the Comic Cons of today, from darkest corners of the Galaxy to the comfort of your couch. For anyone who pretended their flashlight was a lightsaber, stood in line for a movie at midnight, or dreamed they were abducted by aliens, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is full of answers to questions you haven’t thought to ask.”

From the opening essay, “Out of the Sideshows”

When you’re a kid in a 1994 junior high school locker room, and on the receiving end of towel-snaps and occasionally missing gym clothes, you also quickly pick up on a pervasive amount of slurs. Young boys call other boys terrible things: ‘queer,’ ‘wimp,’ and occasionally the uncreative and rote “’oooo-ser.’ But something that stung even worse than a towel-snap was often getting labeled a ‘nerd’ or a ‘geek.’ Without getting too weepy or dramatic, I’ll say being called these things sent a simple message: if there’s a club where everyone agrees on being normal together, I wasn’t in it.”

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  1. That’s pretty interesting because I never noticed it but you don’t see a single book in the entire Star Wars universe of movies. Not even on a shelf in the background or a manual being referenced. Huh.

    1. That’s one of the points he makes to support the whole “functional illiteracy” point–NO ONE in Star Wars reads. Maybe it was such a long time ago that they didn’t have the written word in that galaxy far, far away :-).