By B.J. Novak
(Alfred A. Knopf)
The guy from “The Office,” as most people think of B.J. Novak, has written a book ― a fun and unusual one. Though “One More Thing” is subtitled “Stories and Other Stories,” only a few of the 63 pieces are stories in the usual sense. Many are fables, some are comedy monologues, others are nearly prose poems. A few are two-line koans. Almost all 63 of them are smart, quick and funny.
Many revolve around taking a common phrase and turning it on its head. The poor schlubs in “Great Writers Steal” have misunderstood Oscar Wilde’s advice ― “good writers borrow, great writers steal” ― imagining Bret Easton Ellis robbing liquor stores, and following suit. “The Market Was Down” gets inside the mysterious mood swings of the financial index. “The truth was no one knew why the market was down. It started the day just ... down. It stayed down most of the day.”
Various types of supercharged verbal cleverness drive most of the book. There’s the odd lyricism of “They Kept Driving Faster and Outran the Rain,” the deadpan whimsy of “Diary of the Man Who Invented the Calendar” and the LOL hilarity of “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” at which speakers include the Dalai Lama, Sisqo and Pauly D. The junior detective “Wikipedia Brown” doesn’t solve many mysteries, but, he explains, “I work fast, and I work for free, and I’m everyone’s best friend. Plus, I’m getting better by the second ― and it’s all thanks to people like you.”
The best pieces have characters and plots and some heartbreak along with the humor. “Sophia,” a story about a man who returns his sex robot because it falls in love with him ― “Her” with a twist ― almost made me cry. The most developed story in the book is “One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie,” in which a group of college friends has a reunion in Las Vegas with the secret purpose of staging an intervention for Willie, whose Facebook posts have led them to believe he’s gone over the edge, partywise.
In the Acknowledgments, Novak says his best advice is to “write for the kid sitting next to you.” If so ― don’t change the seating chart. Keep this charming, slightly immature, supersmart guy right where he is. (MCT)