My partner recently looked at me and said, “Are you excited about tonight?” I had no idea what to be excited about until she reminded me that it was my birthday eve—I’d be turning 32 the next day.
I had completely forgotten! While 32 orbits around the sun is no small feat, I find myself thinking less about myself as I get older and more about all the things I want to do with my son as he gets older too.
There’s so much geeky goodness out there*, and to celebrate 32 years I’ve compiled an epic list of 32 nerdy gifts for my boy as he grows up to be a strapping young nerd**!
- Dark Souls—I’ve spent more time in the world of Lordran than any other video game from the past ten years. This is a game he’ll have to wait to play until he’s much older, but I can’t wait for him to test his skills and get that sweet rush of adrenaline after a hard-earned boss fight victory.
- Minecraft—The greatest sandbox game of all time. The game in which your only obstacles are the limits of your own imagination. I’ve lost count of how many new worlds, palaces, mountain hideaways, and miles of railways I’ve built in Minecraft. Minecraft is chill, soothing, complex, and stimulating; often all at once.
- My Nintendo Switch—Growing up, my Gameboy was my constant car-ride companion. I’d spend hours blocking the sun from the green screen, trying to beat Super Mario Land and scratching my head over Metroid II. Passing my Switch along to him for long rides feels like I’m passing the torch, and I can’t wait!
- Tomb Raider—I’ve written before about how much the original Tomb Raider shaped my love for games, soundtracks, and history with its atmosphere and challenge. While the 1996 original might be a liiiiiitle too dated these days to be enjoyable, the XBox 360 remake, Tomb Raider Anniversary, is a great place to start.
- Spyro the Dragon—Speaking of awesome PS1 games, the Spyro trilogy is some of the most well designed platforming around. With the awesome remake that came out last year, a new generation (including my little nugget) has a chance to discover the joys of collecting gems and perfectly timed jumps for themselves.
- Unbeatable Squirrel Girl—One of the biggest sins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been the disturbing lack of nut-based antics. Luckily, Doreen Green is thriving in the comics. Her books are packed with fun action and laughs, and her problems always have really creative solutions. Squirrel Girl’s at the top of my list!
- The Hobbit (the book)—I’ve been looking forward to reading this to my children every since I first read it. Written for children but not childish, full of mystery and wonder, Tolkien’s first masterpiece is an introduction to a larger world of fiction that has some really cool real-world inspirations like Norse mythology and Beowulf. It’s a gateway book, y’all.
- Harry Potter (the books)—Few authors know how to weave a huge, entrancing tale like J.K. Rowling – especially one that possesses a mystical quality similar to Tolkien’s best stories. And with seven books, I’ll never run out of bedtime reading (though I may run out of accents and voices for all the characters!).
- Redwall—Brian Jacques’ rollicking tales of adventure, friendship, bravery, and loyalty are beloved for tons of reasons—between the surprisingly violent battle scenes, the drool-worthy descriptions of feasts, and roguish hares, there’s barely any room to think about the fact that all the moles have Cockney accents. Add this to his reading list.
- My Marvel Unlimited subscription—My Marvel Unlimited subscription has served me well over the past eight months. I finally read Infinity Gauntlet, I’ve been catching up on some awesome Spider-Man stories, and it’s introduced me to characters I’ve been curious about for years. Why would I not share the wealth with my boy?
- The Mandalorian—We’re a long way from the beginnings of Star Wars now (almost 50 years by the time my son grows into it). I think The Mandalorian will be a great way to introduce the groundbreaking visuals and vibe that George Lucas pioneered long ago.
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet—This is one of those “let’s wait ‘til he’s older” entries, but it’s worth the wait. Becky Chambers writes science fiction that seems small-scale but actually has much larger things to say about friendship, identity, and what it means to be a human (or the various types of beings that inhabit her incredible universe).
- The Complete Making of Indiana Jones—This coffee table book has all the stuff a young nerd could possibly want: on-set photos, design sketches, prop photos, behind-the-scene details, and the stories behind one of the world’s most beloved trilogies (plus Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which all good nerds pretend is a sequel to Sahara).
- The Library—Libraries are one of life’s greatest pleasures, a place to spend happy hours finding treasures to check out. Anybody who can’t find something interesting at the library (books, comics, games, movies, the list goes on!) doesn’t have a pulse.
- The Inferno—This is a classic—nay, straight-up medieval—slice of geekery. Dante’s story of his own trip through the depths of Hell is so packed with religious, historical, and mythical allusions that a well-annotated copy is a must for most modern readers. I first read this in ninth grade English and found it fascinating; I can’t wait to pay it forward.
- Theodore Rex—Edmund Morris’ second book on the elder Roosevelt introduced me to the office of the presidency, turn of the 20thcentury America, and the United States’ most fascinating executive. I’ve never read a book quite like Theodore Rex, and I find myself rereading it every couple of years just to reacquaint myself with ole’ Teedie.
- LEGO Slave I—This is the biggest and raddest LEGO set I’ve ever put together. 2,000 pieces of bounty hunting goodness, plus a Han Solo-in-carbonite minifig? This thing will take us days to put together, but we’ll be listening to John Williams, watching Rebels, and having fun the whole time.
- The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular—This show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is real life old-fashioned movie magic. It’s got that perfect ratio of cheesiness and awesome stunts that make the Indy films so timeless. Figuring out how they do these stunts is half the fun!
- Star Tours—Galaxy of Adventure will have to wait! Given all the different scenarios that are possible, this Hollywood Studios ride will never be the same twice. Thanks to the immersion factor, the extremely high quality, and the motion simulation, it’s as close as I’ve felt to being in an actual Star Wars movie.
- The Hall of Presidents—This ride (I guess it’s more of an experience?) is so much cooler than people think. It’s also a testament to some of America’s most influential people, for better or worse. My background in history will (hopefully) turn a “boring ride” into one of the best in the Magic Kingdom.
- Fernbank Museum—You need just one word to describe why this museum is legendary around Atlanta: dinosaurs. It’s got fossils and full skeletons galore, all just waiting to be ogled and crawled over. Add in the cool exhibits on science and optical illusions and you’ve got a heck of a day planned out.
- The music of John Williams—I really love John Williams’ scores. For real, they’re the best thing to happento movie sin the past 50 years. The boy already listens to The Master’s music, but seeing the movies they’re a part of completes the magical alchemy that turns any movie with a Williams score into gold.
- Coheed & Cambria—These emo/prog/punk rockers are some of the nerdiest guys around. Most of Coheed’s albums based on lead singer Claudio Sanchez’s story of the Amory Wars, a sprawling sci-fi epic that spans records, comic books, and even a novel. Plus the band just straight up shreds; what better to rock out to in the car?
- The Muppets—There isn’t a single thing in life that isn’t improved by adding Jim Henson’s lovable and subversive characters. Everything from The Muppet Show to the OG Muppet Babies and Jason Segel’s Muppet movies is triple-A entertainment, much of it done in a spirit of timeless reverence for old Hollywood and movie magic.
- Star Wars Rebels—This show was one of the first post-Disney Star Wars projects, and it proved that the House of Mouse would be a good guardian of George Lucas’ galaxy. Its story of Padawan and Jedi Master quickly bloomed on the strengths of late-era The Clone Wars and would grow far past its original framework.
- Thor: Ragnarok—The most fun I’ve had watching a Marvel movie; even more than Guardians of the Galaxy! Ragnarok was the insane, hilarious, Day-Glo fever dream that bridged “silly” films like GOTG to more the (slightly more) serious Avengers-centric movies. Plus where else will you see Anthony Hopkins mumble, “Oh shit,” while pretending to be Loki?
- Interstellar—One of the best movies to come out in the 2010s, and the movie that made me a diehard 4 LYFE Christopher Nolan fan. The concepts in this film—time travel, intelligent life, space travel, love, family, the effects of global warming—are masterfully explored. The soundtrack is kickin’ too.
- Stranger Things—El, Mike, Nancy, Steve, and the rest of the gang are a great introduction to a bygone time in America, when kids were unsupervised, Ronald Reagan was president, and a government-caused wormhole to another dimension slowly ripped an Indiana town apart. Those were the days.
- Downton Abbey—I’m only a recent convert to the cult of the Granthams, but this show’s heady mix of period dress, decorations, language, and unashamed soap opera storylines have hooked me faster than you can say Cougarton Abbey.
- Beauty & the Beast (animated version)—Nothing’s wrong with the 2017 live-action remake, but the original combined amazing songs with that earnest, aw-shucks, Broadway enthusiasm that runs through the early standouts of the Disney Renaissance. Plus, everybody knows that cartoon Belle sings waaaaay better than live-action Belle (no offense, Emma Watson!).
- Adventure Time—At once tenderhearted, callous, loving, insane, and deeply awkward, Adventure Time is so much more than the story of a boy and his brother. It took huge leaps in its storytelling and its animation, and some episodes were uncomfortable and even downright scary. I can’t wait to turn my boy into a rowdy party god.
- Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood—The magic of the internet brought Mr. Rogers back into the public eye a few years ago, and thank goodness for it. Lord knows the world needs a good role model. I can’t wait to introduce my son to the Becardiganed One’s unique kindness and curiosity.
*There are things on the list that are definitely not age appropriate for little kids or tweens. Consider this a wish list for his entire life—things he can enjoy and savor as he gets older, not just during childhood!
**Let me reemphasize that the things on this list are not things I will ever force my child to do. They’re nerdy things I enjoy(ed) that I’d like to introduce to him when he’s old enough; if he doesn’t like them, no biggie!