What I'm Reading: One More Thing

Wednesday, January 7, 2015



Over the past year, I’ve read quite a few of the memoirs by comedians, actors, and/or celebrities.  I loved Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, so I happily picked up Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and Neil Patrick Harris’s Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography.  My general feeling about these books has been “meh” at best, and I haven’t found any of them to be particularly funny. 

But when I saw B.J. Novak’s One More Thing, I thought I’d check it out.  It’s a collection of short stories, so maybe he would be more successful stepping outside of the celebrity memoir genre.  Plus, he’s besties with Mindy Kaling, so I hoped that his book would embody some of the trademark humor for which they are both known and which I enjoy.

Unfortunately, One More Thing left me feeling pretty “meh” as well.  I don’t know why all of these funny people are writing books that aren’t particularly funny, but it’s disappointing.  There were definitely some stories in Novak’s collection that made me smile or elicited a chuckle.  He’s obviously a smart and witty writer, and a lot of his stories focus on bizarre and quirky situations that, if handled correctly, could be really funny.  These include the Nelson Mandela roast, the Kellogg cereal debacle, and the teacher’s gripe about Mark Twain. 

On the surface, these stories seem like they could be hilarious, but in Novak’s hands, they more often feel like long explications for a subpar joke at best.  As I was reading his stories, I felt like most of them had started off as simple jokes, quick one-liners that he could have performed back-to-back in a 15 minute stand-up set (al la Anthony Jeselnik).  But instead of doing that, Novak built elaborate stories around each joke, inviting the reader to invest the time and energy into his characters and their situations.  At the end, though, there’s still only a silly joke, and the journey rarely felt like it paid off.

There are a few stories that are only a couple of lines, such as “The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day.”  These felt the most successful to me, not because they were particularly funny, but because at least Novak cut to the joke quickly, rather than making me read several pages to get to the punch line.

I think that Novak is a good writer, and he can craft interesting and witty stories.  I hope that, in the future, he will take the time to give his stories more substance.  Humor doesn’t have to be simple or eye roll-inducing; it can be well-crafted and laugh-out-loud funny, and I hope that Novak gets there. 

Two and a half out of five stars.       

2 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm bummed that you were disappointed in this one! It's been on my to-read list for a while. Two of the best celebrity memoirs I've read were Bossypants by Tina Fey, and A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth.

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  2. You make a very interesting point about the tension between the needs of a joke (in the form of a punch-line-esque turn) and the needs of a story (character development, greater substance, etc.) I wonder if short stories are a poor venue for this type of mash-up because they are so close to both, sort of a "servant of two masters" situation. There are few enough writers that manage to be truly witty at novel length and I would like to see more try and succeed on that front. The end of your review seems optimistic about Novak's potential for something like that. I am curious to see what he writes next.

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