Book Review: William Shatner’s Autobiography

Sometimes, when one finds a book in the clearance section at Borders (Canadian equivalent: Chapters), one should be suspicious of the shockingly low price tag, the sun-bleached tone of the book jacket, and the marked up cover and pages. Or one could just buy a great assortment of little books for $2.99 apiece, suspicion be damned.

I am of the latter camp (the one that does the damning), because I have both a book problem and a gift-giving problem. Giving books as gifts can be one way of killing two birds with one purchase. So I bought Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shanter with David Fisher, and I read it, and now I can pass it on to fellow faithful Shatner fans in Vancouver and St. Louis.

This is the cover of my copy. I don't know what happened to his nose.

After learning about how Scotty’s ashes (maybe) wound up in outer space and his character on Star Trek inspired many to a career in engineering, I figured it would be interesting to learn more about the captain who made it happen. Plus, when I read Sulu’s autobiography back in fourth grade, I learned about Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. Perhaps I would glean more fascinating insights into American and Canadian history by reading Shatner’s book. So I began.

At times. Shatner. Writes. A bit. Like he speaks. But for the most part, he sticks to dropping hints about merchandise available for sale at his website. The book opens with a fascinating discussion of having his balls grabbed by a gorilla (true story) and proceeds with a discussion that covers the gamut of characters he has played in his long career in theater, television, and movie productions, supplemented by anecdotes about his role as a husband to four different ladies and occasional father to three others. (Stuff about his personal life really takes back seat to his running resume-like account of his career. Perhaps he addresses this in one of his other published books.)

Parts of the book focus a bit too much (albeit too vaguely) on his disputes with other members of the Star Trek cast. His brief nods to such trials and, dare I say it, tribble-ations (*groan*) leaves one wondering what actually happened and why did Shatner bring these things up if he wasn’t going to resolve anything?

That being said, those moments are not the focus of the book, and sometimes disagreements with co-workers and family members do remain unresolved for life, so his approach perhaps inadvertently reflects the facts of life as we know it. Furthermore, he offers some interesting insights into his experience of show business, growing up Jewish in Montreal, and working with an assorted cast of characters throughout his life.

Overall, his explanations of how he has fallen bass-ackwards into success (sometimes by running from lead roles in what turned out to be hit television shows) lead one to have a bit more faith in the luck of the draw – or at least the luck of those who draw a Bachelor’s degree from McGill, as I do on the daily. A message of humor and luck is generally a positive thing to encounter, so I was left with a favorable impression of his flair for the rhetorical.

Despite what sometimes seems like heavy-handed name-dropping, a semi-stilted writing style, not-quite-as-funny-as-Dave-Barry-esque tangential inserts, and a lament over the abundance of Star Trek products (a sentence that runs onto four pages) – sales of which have netted Shatner nary a dime- overall this book was an amusing diversion from the heavier theoretical reading on which my dissertation will supposedly be based.

For the rest of the summer, I’ll be sticking to poetry and textbooks for diversion, but I did enjoy reading about the range of work that Shatner has been involved in, and I now have a long list of old films and television shows to look into once my dissertation is actually written.

Let me know if you formed a different opinion of the book. If you are not so blessed as to be near a bookstore where this autobiographical account is on clearance, feel free to add yourself to the list of lucky future recipients of this fascinating tome.

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