Living in Stardate Bill: Shatner Rules

I’ve developed such a fondness for the William Shatner who’s been around these last ten years. It started with Free Enterprise, which started out delightfully and then culminated in a burst of purest, shrieking joy when he began pseudo-rapping from Julius Caesar: “Friends, Romans, countrymen…”

What’s not to love, right? I not only own but frequently listen to Has Been. And Boston Legal… oh, how I loved Boston Legal.

Shatner has evolved into a performer so delicious and campy that, at times, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that I was, in my teens, devoted to Star Trek.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to take a look at Shatner Rules this week, to see what the Bill of the now has to say about himself… and about that swaggering Bill of the ’60s, the original Captain Tightpants.

Part memoir, part textual comedy routine, and arguably Too Much Info, Shatner Rules is broken up by jokes, asides, product placements for various things Shatner is selling, and most of all, the rules for living for which the book is named. Some of these rules are reasonably serious… but most aren’t. Take, for example: “Take some stuff off your resume,” wherein he reveals that pretty much everything he’s ever done, for good or ill, is on YouTube. There are also rules like, “Always take Shatner’s word for it, even if you suspect he is lying,” “On occasion, be sincere,” and “Don’t Trust the Facebook.”

Opening with an anecdote about his mother’s eighty-fourth birthday and then easing into a contemplation of his own status as a bona fide octogenarian, the man who wishes we remembered more about him than Captain Kirk takes us on an extended wander through his career and personal life.

The bulk of these stories are lighthearted, and it’s easy to hear Shatner’s voice, purring gently into your ear as you read… at least until he catches you sideways with a quip or a “Fun Factner!” about himself. He talks about having his underwear stolen by a fan in search of an autograph, about how the success of Has Been led to his Priceline commercials and how they led to his role as Denny Crane. He describes his appearance in the recent Winter Olympics closing ceremonies. The style is much like Dave Barry’s: bright, good-tempered, easy to read, and more than a little silly. It’s a book you can blow through in a day. Or, if you prefer, it’s a book you can leave in the bathroom, with the thought of opening it to any random page.

Shatner Rules is leavened with a smaller dose of more serious fare, from musings on death to accounts of his well-publicized battles with former co-stars and the tabloid press. The writing in these acquires a more stilted, careful voice, one I’ve encountered before in celebrity autobiography. The sound is almost identical to the way John Barrowman writes when he’s talking about tough personal stuff in Anything Goes. (Eddie Izzard does better, but even there a distance occasionally yawns, leaving one to wonder whether their zany narrator went out for a quick smoke.)

It has to be strange to talk about such things—events that, were they to happen to those of us who aren’t huge celebrities, would have a fair chance of being kept private. William Shatner is too widely known for that, and so much larger than life. Nobody is universally beloved, of course, and fights happen. But talking about conflict can be tricky. To give your perspective without being a schmuck, or just seeming knee-jerk defensive… I can see how it’s gotta be a bit of a literary minefield.

When Shatner is talking about what he describes as a long-running feud with George Takei, for example, it’s harder to engage with this book. An edge creeps in, that uncomfortable feeling one gets when you’re in a room where two of your loved ones are arguing.

That said, I admire the man’s willingness to talk about anything.

No, really. Anything. His pants fell off once at Mardi Gras? It’s in the book. The bizarre fate of his kidney stone? In there, too. Whether he finds it easier to imagine Kirk/Spock slash or a Denny Crane/Alan Shore pairing? Yep.

The unifying thread of Shatner Rules is its shortest rule, the one that heads its first chapter, and unlike many of the goofier edicts laid down in this book, it’s one its author clearly lives by. William Shatner believes that many of the manifold blessings of his life have come from accepting every possible job, embracing every opportunity that has come his way, no matter how weird or unpromising, since he first began acting. By following his own “Say Yes!” rule, Shatner has been a starship captain, a talk show host, a recording artist, the subject of a celebrity roast, a figure of controversy… and an idol to many. Though he was talking about his impending death on Has Been in 2004, and he talks about it again in this book, I can’t help hoping he somehow survives long enough to gather material for a second edition.

If that means he has to live another eighty years, I’m cool with it.

A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on—an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010.


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