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BOOK REVIEW: Everything I Need To Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone

Some things are timeless and only get better with age: Grandma’s old cast iron skillet, a bottle of wine, a pair of bruised and beaten Converse tennis shoes and, oh yeah, Rod Serling’s seminal ode to fantasy, horror and science fiction, The Twilight Zone.

It’s this last one we’re going to concern ourselves with today (sorry Grandma) as we take a gander at writer Mark Dawidziak’s book, Everything I Need To Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone (2017, Thomas Dunne Books/St.Martin’s Press).

 At first blush it might seem excessive to have yet another book on Serling and The Twilight Zone. After all, don’t masterful tomes such as Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion and Martin Grams, Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic pretty much cover all of the bases, Zone-wise? Well, yes and no. For while these two aforementioned giants that other biographical and reference efforts merely stand on the shoulders of certainly offers almost everything that any died-in-the wool Serling fan would ever need to know about this 1959-1964 television classic, it turns out that there is indeed more to extrapolate upon from everyone’s favorite fifth dimension.

 Dawidziak has hit upon a unique and fresh approach to looking at Serling and Zone and the answer to the quandary of ‘What else can possibly be said?’ has been staring us in the face for nearly sixty years, like some funhouse mirror right out of a Rod Serling teleplay. It has only taken a gifted and talented writer like Mark to point out what should have been evident all along, that The Twilight Zone, as envisioned and executed by Serling and his band of gremlins, er, writers were, by and large, brilliantly and tightly paced morality stories that can not only entertain us for half an hour (or an hour if referring to season four), but also teach us about ourselves and the world we live in, imparting life lessons that are not delivered with the force of a jackhammer, but rather with the lightness of a soft summer’s breeze that kisses us upon the cheek. It’s almost as if Mark has found a hidden in plain sight love letter from Rod Serling to the rest of us; we’ve all known emotionally these little lessons cloaked in the vestiges of ghosts, demons and aliens have always been there, but it’s thanks to the talent of word-smith Mark Dawidziak that we now have a physicality and form to what was before only a good hunch.

Without hitting us over the head with these life lessons as told through the devices of Serling, Beaumont, Matheson and Johnson (to name but a few writers who wove their magic on Twilight Zone), Dawidziak takes the reader by the hand as something of a de facto tour guide, subtly leading us in the direction of key episodes of Zone that impart their unique and universal wisdom. Some of the examples are obvious – the classic Serling penned episode Walking Distance being a metaphor for not living in the past – while others come as a surprise – think Richard Matheson’s fifth season entry Nightmare At 20,000 Feet and how it can be viewed through the prism of believing in yourself when perhaps everyone else has given up on you. Through the devices of being “another” Twilight Zone book, Mark has crafted what he admittedly calls a tribute to Rod Serling in the form of a self-help book. But that’s not quite playing fair, in this five cent an hour reviewer’s opinion. Yes, the book will appeal to the hardcore fans of Serling and Mark’s work might even make some inroads with the so-called self-help crowd. And that’s all good and fine. But what this book really does is give a voice to the world’s long sneaking suspicion that Rod Serling used the format of Zone to subtly change the world we live in. Did this writer from Binghamton, New York succeed in his mission? I think so and the proof lies within the covers of Everything I Need To Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone. Do yourself a favor and que up some Zone episodes for a background soundtrack and crack open a copy of this unique and invaluable addition to your fifth dimension bookshelf!

About Ryan Vandergriff

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