By: Peggy Nelson
October 1, 2021

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of (one of) their nerdy obsessions.


Roy Wensley with his Televox

The word “nerd” has gotten a bad rap over the years. Deployed in any number of movie, meme, and IRL recess situations, it has connotations of poor social skills, and a perceived too-intense focus on (variously) math, computers, chess, historical factoids, how-to manuals…let’s just generalize as a perceived too-intense focus. And despite the term’s partial rehabilitation by our current tech overlords and the world they have wrought (and the incredible wealth they have amassed), there’s still something that hesitates before application of the term, either to others, or to one’s self.

When I chose “nerd” as the theme of this HILOBROW “Enthusiasm” series, however, I intended something different, definitionally — an upgrade, if you will. I wanted to cast as wide a net as possible, and hear about what people were just very, very interested in and excited about in all its glorious detail — their passion, their hobby, their self-claimed area of official or ad hoc expertise. As Andrew Sempere notes in the first entry in the series, “nerd” is just shorthand for sustaining a lively curiosity — in his case, towards everything.

And the wide cast has returned a full net! There is the natural world: Susan Roe grapples with our dual encapsulation in clock and calendar time, Annie Nocenti considers the ways in which the tyranny and homogeneity of the lawn can be undercut by encouraging the growth of mosses and native plants, while Blanca Rego ponders the poetic variance of the rain in her native Galicia.

There is the written word: variously discussed by Lucy Sante, whose eye for the overlooked has unearthed pseudo-American pseudonyms of French pulp fiction, while Gabriela Pedranti convinces us to cast a literary eye on illustrated books, which aren’t just for children anymore (if they ever were), and Tom Nealon confronts the physicality of the codex and finds art in page edges. Meanwhile Mandy Keifetz has contributed an excerpt from her upcoming novel Klingon Confidential, which features not only the ever-nerd-appropriate Star Trek universe, but one of its very active fan communities. Digging further in the archives reveals Nicholas Rombes and the beautifully drawn and contemporaneously accurate map inserts from old geology survey books, and Eric Weisbard evangelizes his stance as a writer to not cleave too closely to always already post hoc categories.

Then we move into media, where Charlie Mitchell groks the comic, and cosmic, absurdity that is Repo Man, while James Parker considers why and how it is that we are still watching Seinfeld in 2021. Toby Ferris brings us back to childhood reruns with British WW2 films produced from Ealing studios, while Vijay Parthasarathy jumps to the extremely online with his experiences of pandemic-friendly virtual travel, including but not limited to a close orbit around Google Earth.

Closer to home, Kio Stark provides three epiphanies of how the LoC classification system led to literary and topical synchronicities that resonate still, while Adam McGovern grounds our gaze with the intensely personal and painterly work of Joan Semmel, whose alteration of invitation and individuality keeps us off-balance in the best possible way. Vanessa Berry invites us to appreciate the overlooked aesthetics of the Australian newsagency (a member of the broad taxonomy that includes NYC bodegas and chain convenience stores, but differentiated from both in key ways), while Jessamyn West reminds us that there is a lot more to the post office than may be dreamt of in our usual considerations, and it’s all fascinating and weird and good.

And of course there are games and toys! Josh Glenn details the ways in which Arduin and other DIY hacks of D&D led not only to a more interesting game, but the idea that the rules…are really more like guidelines. Heather Cole peers into the rich parallel realities that historical fiction offered, and offers still, with American Girl dolls and their passionate fanbase, while Mark Kingwell mods out scale models, first aspiring towards extreme accuracy, and then veering off into miniature mayhem, including a close encounter at and with the Empire State Building. Then Russell Bennetts takes us on a wild ride with the technological advances (and physiological pushback) of proto-3D effects in the rivalry between Sega/Genesis and Nintendo.

Finally we move firmly towards the philosophical with Miranda Mellis casting an eye on the role of doubt permeating all analyses, and Heather Kapplow considering both nothing as nothing, and nothing as something. Then we round it all up with Marc Weidenbaum celebrating nets of nerd communities, among which HILOBROW and its readers may choose to include themselves.

We hope this series, which kicks off tomorrow, will keep you informed and entertained throughout the final months of 2021. And who knows? It may spark, or rekindle, some nerdy enthusiasms of your own.


NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Peggy Nelson | Andrew Sempere on NERDING | Blanca Rego on RAIN | Lucy Sante on PSEUDO-AMERICAN PSEUDONYMS OF FRENCH PULP WRITERS DURING WWII | Heather Cole on AMERICAN GIRL | Nicholas Rombes on OLD GEOLOGY SURVEY BOOKS WITH MAP INSERTS | Susan Roe on TIME | Mark Kingwell on SCALE MODELS | Jessamyn West on THE POST OFFICE | Josh Glenn on ARDUIN | Vanessa Berry on NEWSAGENCY AESTHETICS | Toby Ferris on BRITISH/EALING WW2 FILMS | Annie Nocenti on MOSS | Adam McGovern on JOAN SEMMEL | Gabriela Pedranti on ILLUSTRATED BOOKS | Miranda Mellis on DOUBT | Tom Nealon on PAGE EDGES | Mandy Keifetz on KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL (NOVEL EXCERPT) | Eric Weisbard on SUMMATIONS | Kio Stark on LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION CODES | Charlie Mitchell on REPO MAN | James Parker on SEINFELD | Heather Kapplow on NOTHING | Russell Bennetts on VIDEO GAMES: MODE 7 | Vijay Parthasarathy on VIRTUAL TRAVEL | Marc Weidenbaum on NERD PROXIMITY.