One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
You probably know B.J. Novak from The Office. He was Ryan (the temp), sometimes lover to Mindy Kaling’s Kelly Kapoor. Mindy and B.J. were both writers on The Office; that’s where they met. And now, in real life, they are BFFs. They are each stars on their own (more so Mindy than B.J. these days, but who’s counting?), but, with their powers combined, they seem to shine a little brighter.
And they milk that for all it’s worth. They have “private” conversations with each other on Twitter. They post pictures of each other on Instagram. They have entire Buzzfeed lists dedicated to their friendship and mutual adoration (like “35 Times Mindy Kaling And B.J. Novak’s Best Friendship Killed You In The Heart”).
Which is why it’s no surprise that Mindy features prominently in the trailer for B.J.’s new book, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories (and why in the book’s acknowledgements he says, “Mindy Kaling gets her own line in the acknowledgements, as previously negotiated by her representatives. Thanks, Mindy. I love you and you’re the best.”):
Comics (Mindy included) are big believers in the funny memoir. Tina Fey’s Bossypants was a big hit, Chelsea Handler just came out with another one (Uganda Be Kidding Me), and, bizarre though it may be, even Kathy Griffin manages to write best-sellers (like Official Book Club Selection).
But, even though B.J. is following in Mindy’s book-writing footsteps, he decided to forge his own path. One More Thing is not a memoir; it is a collection of fictional short stories.
The stories range in length from two sentences to twenty-three pages. They’re a compilation of little riffs and jokes B.J. probably thought of while brushing his teeth or sitting in traffic or filing his nails (Yes, in my mind B.J. Novak files his nails. I don’t think that’s too far a stretch). Perhaps they’re jokes he thought would be better on paper than delivered on stage or screen. But there are definite similarities to stand-up—like recurring characters (Remember Arush in “’Rithmetic”? He makes a cameo again in “A Good Problem to Have.” It all comes full circle).
Often, the quippy, super-short stories (a couple paragraphs long at most) are a little lazy. They’re not much more than little one-liners that weren’t fully developed. But some of the shorties are funny and cute. Like “War”:
The two children began a game of war.
This is a good idea, thought both children. Soon, I will win. Then the game will be over; I will be happy, and we can both go do other things.
But no matter how many times they played war, they always forgot how tedious, how tiresome, how emotionally debilitating the game was; and how they always regretted having started the contest well before the time it was over.
In that way, it wasn’t too unlike the game of bridge.
The meat of the book is in the better, longer stories, like “Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle School Boy)” and “One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie” and “J. C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote” (see below for summaries). They are creative and smart and funny. The book as a whole would have been better if Novak had spent some time developing some of the super-shorties into longer-shorties.
Rating: 3.5/5 😂
When it comes to short stories, I have set a precedent of rating and summarizing each story separately. That’s usually not a problem, considering the collections I read often contain no more than ten stories. This collection, on the other hand, has SIXTY-THREE stories. But I’m nothing if not consistent, so here goes nothing:
Note: Many of the stories have titles that tell you precisely what the story is about (like “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela” or “The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate”). Where further elucidation is not necessary, I have made that clear.
Another note: There are a ton of stories here, so I put little asterisks in front of my favorites, in case you don’t want to read all of the synopses and would rather just read about the good ones.
- “The Rematch”: The hare challenges the tortoise to another race. A funny fable, great way to start the book. 4/5
- “Dark Matter”: A visitor to the planetarium gets the sense that a scientist knows more than he’s letting on, and forces him to spill the beans. 3/5
- “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg”: Tim makes a promise to his grandma on her deathbed that he will visit her in heaven. Flash forward several decades, and Tim tries to keep that promise. 3.5/5
- “Romance, Chapter One”: Three sentence conversation about a crush. 2/5
- * “Julie and the Warlord”: First date between Julie and the guy she’s been talking to online, who happens to be (you guessed it!) an African warlord. 4/5
- “The Something by John Grisham”: John Grisham picks up a newspaper and finds out two things: 1) his new book is a bestseller, and 2) it was published with the wrong title. 3/5
- “The Girl Who Gave Great Advice”: Speaks for itself. 3.5/5
- * “All You Have to Do”: A guy’s simple plan for finding true love is to wear a bright red t-shirt every single day. 4/5
- “’Rithmetic”: A principle has the grand idea to make his school a “zero-mathematics school.” 2.5/5
- “The Ambulance Driver”: The best ambulance driver ever has a dream to become a singer. 3/5
- “Walking on Eggshells (or: When I Loved Tony Robbins)”: A chick tries to “fix” herself to become loveable to the guy she’s obsessed with. I would have loved this story but for the fact that it is kind of ruined by its cheesy, punch-line ending. 3.5/5
- “The Impatient Billionaire and the Mirror for Earth”: A billionaire gets an idea at a TED Talk to build a mirror for Earth and does just that. 2/5
- * “Missed Connection: Grocery spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on Wednesday”: A story centered on a bit of a comic trick, but it’s done well, so I liked it. Two people meet on the street and hit it off, but never speak again. 4/5
- “I Never Want to Walk on the Moon”: Pros/cons of moonwalking. 3.5/5
- “Sophia”: A sex robot falls in love. 2.5/5
- “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”: Speaks for itself. Decent execution and representation of Roast regulars (like Jeffrey Ross and Lisa Lampanelli). 3.5/5
- “They Kept Driving Faster and Outran the Rain”: Sweet little story about a couple on a honeymoon, driving in a convertible. 3.5/5
- “The Man Who Invented the Calendar”: Guy writes about his days in his newfound calendar. 1.5/5
- “The Ghost of Mark Twain”: A teacher proposes a controversial change to Huckleberry Finn to a Random House editor. 3/5
- “The Beautiful Girl in the Bookstore”: He likes books; she likes pretty things. An underdeveloped story that revolves around a punchline. 1.5/5
- “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster”: A roller-coaster focus group discusses their impressions of the ride. 3/5
- * “Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy)”: A kid wins $100,000 in cereal-box lottery, but can’t claim the prize. 4/5
- “The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate”: Speaks for itself. 4/5
- “Closure”: Predictable but fun and fast-paced story about a girl and her last meeting with her ex-boyfriend. 4/5
- “Kindness Among Cakes”: Cute two-sentence story between a kid and her mom about cake. 3/5
- “Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley”: Elvis lives! 3/5
- “If I Had a Nickel”: How one dude would maximize profits if he actually got five cents for every cup of coffee he spilled. 3/5
- “A Good Problem to Have”: Guy who invents the math problem about two trains traveling opposite directions meeting in the middle has a breakdown. 3.5/5
- “Johnny Depp, Fate, and the Double-Decker Hollywood Tour Bus”: Johhny Depp shows off for a busload of tourists. 2/5
- “Being Young Was Her Thing”: Speaks for itself. 3/5
- “Angel Echeverria, Comediante Superpopular”: A one-bit comedian. 3/5
- “The Market Was Down”: The market, personified. 1/5
- “The Vague Restaurant Critic”: Speaks for itself. Too short, pointless. 1.5/5
- * “One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie”: Three college friends decide to stage an intervention for their buddy, Willie . . . in Vegas. 4/5
- “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle”: Bad, unfunny parody of Encyclopedia Brown. 1/5
- “Regret Is Just Perfectionism Plus Time”: Grandpa on his deathbed expresses his only regret in life. 2.5/5
- “Chris Hansen at the Justin Bieber Concert”: Speaks for itself. Great concept, could have been better executed. 3/5
- “Great Writers Steal”: Two wannabe writers take this adage too literally. 2/5
- “Confucius at Home”: Speaks for itself. 2.5/5
- “War”: See above. 4/5
- “If You Love Something”: Let it go . . . 4/5
- “Just an Idea”: Couple wins the lottery and sells their winning ticket to Damien Hirst. 3/5
- “Heyyyyy, Rabbits”: A rabbit hops across the patio, and (duh) it is AWESOME. 3.5/5
- “The Best Thing in the World Awards”: Love is always the big winner . . . until one fateful year. 3/5
- * “Bingo”: Young cousins freak out at the prospect of winning Bingo (reminded me of our cruise-time excitement, Lindsay and John: “TWO LITTLE SAILBOATS!!!”). 4/5
- “Marie’s Stupid Boyfriend”: Short conversation about the titular guy. 3/5
- “Pick a Lane”: Speaks for itself. 2/5
- “’Everyone Was Singing the Same Song’: The Duke of Earl Recalls His Trip to America in June of 1962”: The Duke of Earl visits America and loves it. 3/5
- “The Pleasure of Being Right”: Everyone told him he’d get over it . . . but he never did. 2/5
- “Strange News”: Five fake strange news stories. 2/5
- “Never Fall in Love”: Despite the cardinal rule, a secret agent falls in love with a fellow secret agent. 2.5/5
- “The World’s Biggest Rip-Off”: Horrible family vacation gets salvaged. 3/5
- “The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day”: A two-second story about finding the good (albeit kind of evil) in every bad thing. 2/5
- “Kate Moss”: A how-to guide to being Kate Moss. 2/5
- “Welcome to Camp Fantastic for Gifted Teens”: A letter from the disturbed and overly honest founder of the camp. 2.5/5
- “There Is a Fine Line Between Why and Why Not”: A graduation speech. 2/5
- “The Man Who Told Us About Inflatable Women”: Random, creepy dude explains why he prefers inflatable women to real women. 2.5/5
- “A New Hitler”: Speaks for itself. 3/5
- * “Constructive Criticism”: A ten-year-old kid wants to be an architect, just like his dad. He goes to see one of his dad’s buildings for the first time and offers some advice. 4/5
- “The Bravest Thing I Ever Did”: Guy goes to a Transgender Alliance Support Group meeting. 2/5
- “Rome”: Couple retires to Italy. 3/5
- “The Literalist’s Love Poem”: Speaks for itself. 3.5/5
- “J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote”: Dude does a new translation of Don Quixote that is very well received. But what will he do next?? 4/5
At the end, there’s also a page of discussion questions. They’re not meant to be taken seriously, of course. And, like the random discussion questions that follow stories like “Julie and the Warlord” and “Pick a Lane,” they’re not as funny as intended. They don’t detract too much, but the book would have been better without them.
Who should read it: Jake (i.e., fans of The Office and comedy in general).
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home by Mary Matalin & James Carville (No parenthetical explanation necessary, right? The title and authors pretty much sum it up.)
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (named one of the best books of 2012 by The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist; winner of YALSA’s Alex Award; one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for June 2012)