Saturday, April 26, 2014

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by BJ Novak

One More Thing
BJ Novak
Knopf: New York, 2014
ISBN: 978-0385351836

I don’t read a lot of short stories, for no other reason, I suppose than it not being habit, though I do appreciate a shorter format every now and then.  When I came upon BJ Novak’s book, I knew I had to give it a crack.  This is the guy who wrote for The Office, after all!  Plus – we’re from the same hometown (badass Newton, Mass.)  Now, bear with for a moment.  Though I totally loved reading this book,  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having moments I did not totally love, due to Novaks occasional moments of awkward cringe and wince humor, much like on The Office.  The stories in this book are truly zeigeist works.  Novak aptly embraces and skewers a whole American generation (as well as those generations on both sides) – which perhaps causes those awkward, hard, societally introspective looks that caused me to wince in recognition. His stories entertain as he speaks truth through fiction, and he explores what seem to be generationally pervasive themes like hopefulness, dissatisfaction, selfishness, altruism, searching for self and love, the precarious balance between apathy and excitement, and the pervasive obsession with socializing through the Internet.  

These themes shine through in all these weird yet wonderful stories (looking at you, “Heyyyy, Rabbits”), but especially so in stories like the Missed Connection series, “The Diary of the Man who Invented”, “Julie and the Warlord”, and “Sophia”, amongst others.  “The Girl Who Gave Great Advice” is truly Novak nailing it to all of us; I suspect we all see a little bit of ourselves in it.  As a super library nerd who loved Encyclopedia Brown, I was bound to have a huge soft spot for Wikipedia Brown, but by golly if it isn’t a librarians perfectly constructed idea of a great societal commentary turned reference joke.   If that’s a run on, I don’t care. I  warned you about the library nerd business!
My favorite story, though, is one of the longer ones, “Kellogg’s (Or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy).”  In this one, a young boy becomes obsessed with winning a prize on a box of Kellogg’s; naturally, a search for identity emerges. In all seriousness, this story displays Novaks great talent to lead a reader down a path assumed to go somewhere, and take us in a totally unpredictable, yet more seemingly and amusingly appropriate one.

Though most of the time I loved the shorter stories (one to two pages) interspersed with longer works, the back end of the book felt off balance, with more shorter form stories and not enough long engagement.  Maybe it is a nod at our cultural short attention span, but it felt a little reverse-mullet (party in the front, business in the back…or something).  I suspect this is much more of an editorial quibble.  I do love that there is some continuity between stories, so pay attention to those shorter ones earlier, as they will appear again a little bit later!

In short, this is a great read, especially if you’re short on time or only have time to read in short bursts (a great subway read!).  Because of some of the topics and language, I’d error on the side of older teens, but mature teen readers will love this, as will the intended Millennial, Generation X, Generation Next, whatever adult generation audience you are.  

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...