Jun 25, 2013

[Books] The Kobayashi Maru of Love (4th Edition)

Don't judge a book by it's cover they say. But I think I sort of did precisely that when I picked up The Kobayashi Maru of Love. I mean come on - how could any geek resist a book title that includes the infamous Star Trek no-win scenario in it? My partner Tobie had mentioned hearing interesting things about the book as well, and so I went for it.

I don't often read creative non-fiction of this nature - after all, it feels like a lot of blogs out there already address this reading niche for me. But again I wanted to give a local author a chance. Plus the need to heed the call of the Trekkie in all of us.

The book promised to be about love - or about the end of love, to be more precise. And that's one of the more powerful writing motivations right there. We all know the pain of heartbreak to some extent and to capture it in words can be pretty powerful indeed. But to do so in a manner that is also geeky - well that just resonates with me on so many levels.

In the end though, the book didn't quite work for me.

Synopsis: The Kobayashi Maru of Love is the collection of essays by Carljoe Javier written after the end of a rather significant relationship for him. This 4th edition is the first print by Visprint, Inc. - I'm guessing the other editions were printed as indie titles or with other publishers.

In 148 pages, this book explores Carljoe's break-up through a series of essays. But padding this fourth edition are three introductions, a conclusion, an epilogue and an afterword. And since this is the fourth edition, you also get 4 bonus essays, an interview with the author and sort of a guide to reading and appreciating the book at the very end. It's like a DVD with a ton of extras or something.

So what about the essays themselves?

Like I said earlier, I picked this book up since it promised geekery and heartache. It had a pseudo Starfleet ship exploding on the cover and the back cover blurb included references to general geekery and even RPGs. Plus it's supposed to be funny. That sounded pretty good to me.

It's a little weird going through all those introductions before you get to the actual work. I mean seriously, I don't think I really needed the "hear" from these other folks about how funny the book is or how meaningful the journey was for Carljoe. It's like a salesman not knowing when to just stop his overselling. So by the time I got to the actual essays, I was a little disappointed by how they weren't all as geeky as I had hoped.

Sure, he makes a number of references and a few of the essays show the promise of having strong geek themes in terms of structure. But once you dive in, you don't really get a heck of a lot of geekery and you mostly get a man feeling bad about being single or having challenges in the dating scene. I'm not challenging Carljoe's geek cred - I'm sure he truly is a geek. But the book was not written in that manner.

And this is where I have to state my bigger challenge at this point. In reviewing a book of personal essays - how does one merely focus on the quality of the writing and not critique the narrative decisions themselves? After all, this is not some fictional protagonist - this is about what a guy actually did with his life. And so I'll do my best to do just that.

In terms of writing, there's no doubt that Carljoe writes well. He language level is smart and witty without getting overly verbose. And he really shines in certain essays - the best ones being the one where he talks about Shakespeare and perhaps the bonus essay about his sister. But both of these essays are closer to the end.

I think Carljoe assessed things best in his own Conclusion added to this 4th edition - he recognized that he let his emotions bleed into his work and thus breaking the sort of barrier between writer and output, or something along those lines. And so I didn't find this book particular funny - David Sedaris handles the essays on his life quite better. It felt sort of like geek lite - ala the show The Big Bang Theory, which is really the reincarnation of Friends, in my opinion. And the collection didn't really mesh all that well together, at least for me.

And so this collection feels mostly like something that I could have read online in some LiveJournal back in the early 2000's. That doesn't make it necessarily bad writing - the quality is there. But because of the highly personal nature of things and the evolution of writing on the internet, I didn't quite feel like I had gotten my money's worth even at just P200 for the book. And despite the rather awesome title for the book, the irony is that the book doesn't actually feature an essay with Star Trek as its focus apart from mentions in the introductions and afterwords.

Outside the more objective reviewer's view, I have a number of personal issues with the book. So this may act as unsolicited advice for Carljoe from one geek to another. Based on his writing, one can't help but feel that Carljoe didn't fully embrace his geekdom. His relationship ended when his then girlfriend left him for another guy and he later saw this as her not taking the time to understand him and his passions. But based on his initial ventures into the dating world, he often talks about the need to hide his geek nature or at least reign it in. And in the interview he admits that he has never dated a geek girl. Do you still wonder why?

Whenever anyone sees the need to change him or herself in order to get a date and meet people, it's a recipe for disaster - for both geeks and non-geeks. If you choose to be anyone but yourself than who you are, then you will end up with people who don't understand you and thus things won't work out. And this is not to say that geeks can only be happily involved with geeks (but I do know many such couples). What is key here is that you find someone who accepts you for who you are. This may mean finding a geek who shares your same interests. Or just finding someone who understands and celebrates your passions even without necessarily sharing them.

In conclusion, The Kobayashi Maru of Love is a decent enough collection of essays but I don't think it's something you should have to pay for. Go read a blog - you'll get the same heartache for free. Thus I can only rate the book as 2 modest geek mentions that are afraid to become full references out of a possible 5.
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