B-J- Novak

Book Review: "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories" by B.J. Novak

B.J. Novak This past August, I set out on a quest: to watch every single episode of The Office, in order, from Season One through Season Nine. It’s been a great journey, and today is a bittersweet day. I have just one episode left—the finale—and I do not want this hilariously witty show to end. It’s rather ironic then, or perhaps it’s kismet, that today happens to also be the day that I’m reviewing One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak—an actor, writer, director, and executive producer of The Office.

I have to admit, One More Thing started out a bit differently than I expected. This 276-page book of short stories, which range in length from as little as two lines to as long as 20 pages, opens on a rather dark note—something I wasn’t quite expecting from this Office writer. Themes of gloomy failure, death, and disappointment color the beginning tales—it’s a little off-putting. The stories are funny, yes, but there is something about them that just seems…off; that seems unsettling, frustrating, and uncomfortable. They’re uncanny.

One More ThingAs I tried to pinpoint what exactly made me feel this way, I looked to the vignettes’ subject matter. Each story contains wildly imaginative and weird parameters. For instance, the book’s title is derived from the story “Sophia,” which features a scorned sex robot. Some are a bit abrasive, too, such as the one entitled, “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” and “The Ghost of Mark Twain,” which features an English teacher addressing the use of a certain word in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (said word is sprinkled throughout the story.) Others were just so odd that I had the feeling there was a bigger meaning to the text that I simply wasn’t getting; as an English major and a lover of symbolism, being unable to decipher Novak’s message was infuriating. At one point, I almost put down the book for good without finishing. It was simply too weird, too uncanny, for me to go on.

However, when I reached the story “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster,” my feelings changed. This story takes the cliché, “Life is a roller coaster,” and turns it on its head by imagining that a man creates a roller coaster that takes its riders literally through life—through loops of love, break-up, and divorce, through the college years and marriage and death. It’s a beautifully written story with a really cool concept. That’s when it clicked for me—throughout the book, Novak’s overarching theme is life itself. Realizing this, I flipped through the past stories with new eyes, taking them in now with a fresh understanding. Novak’s humor is dark and absurdist, but isn’t that life?

Finishing out the book was a real treat. I loved seeing Novak poke fun at other clichés. For instance, “If I Had A Nickel” works out the business theory and economics involved in receiving a five-cent payment for each time a cup of coffee is spilled, and “Great Writers Steal” features two aspiring writers turned burglars. Other stories creatively reimagine the invention of the calendar or the origin of “Confucius Say.” Novak takes clichés and accepted folklore and popular objects or emotions and re-imagines them—flips them on their heads until they’re almost unrecognizable. While yes, this leaves readers with an uncanny feeling, it also gives readers a fulfilling sense of taking in life in a new way—with a new perspective and a mind opened to infinite possibilities.

Novak’s writing is clear and refreshing, dark and imaginative, and wonderfully funny. I’d recommend this book to lovers of short fiction who don’t mind boundaries being pushed. And, even if it seems slightly uncomfortable at first, I urge you to read it through to the end—it will be well worth your while.

Chelsea is a graduate of the DCH Training Center. She is obsessed with music of the 60s & 70s and her vices include vanilla lattes and Swedish Fish. You can check out more of Chelsea’s thoughts and ponderings HERE!

What We're Loving: Single Use Acronyms, Suicide Prevention, An Abundance of Body Oil

dch_what we're loving_02_28_2014Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright cries alone, David Allison shapes pop culture, and Ryan Callahan will never sleep again.

 

This_american_lifeThis week I listened to the latest episode of This American Life. It's been awhile since I've listened, but I've been a fan of the show for many years. This week, while I sat at my desk alone, I listened and I laughed out loud and teared up. Alone at my desk. Typical This American Life listening for me. This latest episode is #518: "Except For That One Thing. "If you're not familiar with TAL (This American Life for the purpose of this this article only; if you approach me and say TAL outloud, it is unlikely I'll know what you're talking about), each episode has a common theme and each act fits into that theme. This episode features stories about things that are perfect Except For That One Thing. Act One is a radio drama based on a short story featured in B.J. Novak's book, One More Thing. It's about a perfect first date except that the fella is an African warlord. It's funny. Act Two is about how we could all be eating hippo meat instead of cows, if only the Internet was around a hundred years earlier. It's also funny, but this one's educational. Tig Notaro is featured in Act Three, so of course it's funny. And Act Four is when I cried. It's a really good episode. If you download the TAL app on your mobile device, you're able to save your favorite episodes, such as:  Episode 172: "24 Hours at the Golden Apple." That's a good one. Each act of this episode is divided into time segments at a diner off Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. The people are diverse and the interviews are incredibly interesting and entertaining.  For those of you going to Chicago for the Improv Festival, listen to this episode. Listen to it on your way there. And then go to the Golden Apple. And then take a picture, post it, and tag me in it. Please and thank you. - Ashley Bright

gethard120402_560Quick follow up before I get to this week’s recommendation.  A few posts ago, I discussed one of my favorite new shows, Broad City. Due exclusively, I think, to that post, Broad City got renewed for a second season.  Let’s keep changing the world!

Anyone that follows pop culture has a couple of favorites.  Maybe it’s a celebrity that shares a similar set of morals.  Or it might be someone that makes great decisions on what projects to take. Or maybe this person comes across as cool in interviews.  Why we like certain famous people varies greatly, but we’ve all got a few who regardless of what project they take on, we’re going to follow. One of mine is Chris Gethard.

Chris Gethard is predominantly known for his New York Cable Access television program, though you might also know him from his book or improvisational career.  He performed The Chris Gethard Show at UCBNY until 2011, when he was introduced to the free world of Cable Access.  As long as the necessary paperwork is filled out, anyone can make a television show about anything, which is probably why his show is about everything.  The Chris Gethard Show doesn’t really seem to have a discernible structure or consistent format, except that he usually takes calls and is happy to showcase anyone’s talents.  The latter is what makes the show special to me.  It’s an hour of television that makes you feel like you can do anything, because everyone on screen is getting support for the dumbest thing or part of them that they don’t normally allow others to see.  This mindset extends well beyond the show because of Gethard’s interaction with viewers; the dude has literally saved people’s lives.  His post in response to anonymous fan on the verge of suicide is an inspiring piece that I try to look at a few times per year.  The Chris Gethard Show was recently given a pilot order, so they’re not currently doing a weekly episode, but here’s an archive of every episode they’ve ever done.  As I said earlier, everyone has a famous person they like, so search through the list and find one where Gethard interviews someone you know and appreciate, like Amy Poehler or Bobby Moynihan.  Soon enough, you’ll be addicted to the show and bemoaning the fact that there are only three Sandwich Nights. - David Allison

ric-flair-49ers-panthers-orderIt would be a lie to say that I'm loving anything else this week other than the WWE Network. Since its launch on Monday, the Network has consumed me. There are many stripes in the rainbow of pop culture which I cherish, (books, comedy, movies, Criterion Collection Blu-Rays,) but nothing ranks as high as professional wrestling. Now, before I continue, allow me to answer the question that you have in your head. Yes, I know pro wrestling is fake. Just like I know that Robert Downey, Jr. isn't really Iron Man. Just like I know that Westeros is not a real kingdom. Now that I've defensively answered your fictional, judgmental question, let’s move on. I have been a fan of wrestling for as long as I can remember. There's wasn't a first show that reeled me in, nor a single match that turned got me hooked. As far as I can tell, it was always there and I loved it. And I loved everything about it, not just the morality tale of good versus evil, where good will always triumph in the end, not just the fake sport aspect which allows for stories impossible in the real world, but everything about the show: the interviews, the characters, the entrances, the shows within the show. Only in the world of wrestling can a thing like Piper's Pit exist. Only in the world of pro wrestling can a person like Ric Flair exist. That alone is enough to justify the existence of pro wrestling. My life now has two distinct eras: The Before Network Era (B.N.) when life was gray and flat, each day filled with the dull ache of sameness, and The After Network Era, (A.N.) where life is vibrant and lush, each day ripe with joy and endless possibilities. I could watch pro wrestling 24 hours a day. Now I can. It's a godsend. The god in this case being Ric Flair. Woooo! - Ryan Callahan