When the publisher Knopf announced last year that Emmy Award-winning comedy actor B.J. Novak from “The Office” had signed on to a two-book seven figure deal, the assumptions were obvious. Novak would remain where he has had the most experience with: comedy. A book written maybe with the same narcissist hipster persona of the temp Ryan Howard. A quirky memoir like his best friend Mindy Kaling, who is also from “The Office.” The book would most likely discuss the fun times on set where he would make “That’s what she said” jokes with Steve Carell. His A-list celebrity friends mentioned page after page. Sentences such as “I was having lunch with Brad and Angie, but you may know them as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.”
This book is not that!
“One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories” is a collection of 63 fictional short stories each with a strikingly different theme and writing style. The genres vary and include the following: traditional tragedy, psychological thrillers, sequels of folk tales, dark comedy, science, horror and even philosophical scenarios. Writing is something Novak was born to do. His father, William Novak, was the ghost-writer for bestselling books by former first lady Nancy Reagan and businessman Lee Iacocca. At one time Los Angeles Times referred to him as the man every high-powered publisher looks for to help write a million-dollar memoir and “the best in the business.” William Novak leaves big shoes to fill for his son, B.J. which he does with his short stories.
Novak attended Harvard University, where he majored in English and Spanish literature and worked on the humor publication “The Harvard Lampoon.” Novak reportedly got the ideas for the short stories from his improv work at the Upright Citizens Brigade. His comedic education and versatile writing skills allow him to narrate from the point of view of many different characters. The perspective of male and female, young and old come off flawlessly.
Novak brings to life a woman’s Missed Connection ad on Craigslist in the story “Missed Connection: Grocery spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on a Wednesday.” After having spent the night with a man whom she has met at a local Trader Joe’s, a woman is unable to get a hold of her potential life mate. Unbeknownst to her, but crystal clear to the reader, she was merely a one-night stand.
Heaven is one giant Coachella in “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg.” Eternity to see every deceased musician on earth for free proves too much for a man in his seventies who just wants to spend a day with his grandmother, a sweet old lady as he remembers her from before her death when he was seven. But all grandma wants to do is smoke cigarettes and hang out with Frank Sinatra all day.
Novak takes a turn to dark comedy with the unaired transcript to “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela.” Although the flagrant roast is for a well-respected, then living, Nelson Mandela, the raunchy comedians do not hold back their racist crude humor. A special appearance by His Holiness the Dalai Lama via video chat is presented half way during the roast where only praise is presented to Mandela. Following the Dalai Lama, comedian Gilbert Gottfried screeches deafening insults to the audience. Novak’s purpose for the roast by Hollywood’s most crass comedians is to prove freedom is wasted on people who misuse it. While half the world starves themselves to stay thin and beautiful in Hollywood, the other half starves because they live in a third world country where food and freedom are things which they will probably never see in their lifetime.
The majority of the stories stay with the reader’s mind. Novak is able to cultivate the reader by injecting mainstream situations in every story. The short stories always begin almost like a horror film where everything is fine and it is as it should be until the killer arrives a couple paragraphs in and changes the entire tone of the story. Novak’s writing is very much Woody Allen meeting the internet and a lot of plot twists are scattered throughout the book, almost like M. Night Shyamalan’s work. But one thing Novak and Shyamalan do not have in common is Novak’s readers will not ponder for an hour over why they wasted their time reading a story as anyone would after watching a Shyamalan film.
Novak discusses love in a few stories such as a blind date between a drunken woman and a warlord in “Julie and the Warlord.” The words “rape” and “limbs” show up a little too often as any girl on a blind date would want to hear.
In the story of “Sophia,” Novak narrates from the point of view of a man who has bought a life-like sex robot programed to fulfill his every fantasy. What could possibly go wrong? Sophia the sex robot starts to fall in love with him and begins to have feelings like a human being. The story almost sounds like a version of the Academy Award-nominated film “Her” by Spike Jonze. However, unlike “Her,” the story of “Sophia” will captivate and keep the reader’s interest even with only a couple dozen pages. Novak will make the reader feel the contemplation the owner of the sex robot feels whether he should give up the best sex he has ever had or remain with an artificial intelligent being.
Science and technology are things Novak discusses often in most of his short stories. The psychologies behind the purpose of these renovating ideas are just some of the thought provoking scenarios Novak introduces to readers.
Smartphone applications and websites are a big part in the lives of millennials, which Novak discusses the psychology behind. The foodie persona of people taking pictures of their food and posting them on Instagram in “The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate” is one scenario. The psychology behind why so many people are a part of this trend is discussed and answered by Novak. “He did it because it made him feel like he was eating his meals with more people.”
With “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle” the website Wikipedia takes human form and proves to be the most distracting and inaccurate friend a person can have. Ask him about bicycle locks and you will end up in a completely different world of topics you did not expect to reach. Wikipedia’s answers are always able to be edited by anyone, such as those awful and untrue rumors about you being broadcasted out of Wikipedia in a Tourette syndrome like manner.
Some of Novak’s stories are not necessarily a home run; there are some misses which are not as interesting as most of the other stories. One would be Chris Hanson from “To Catch a Predator” going to a Justin Bieber concert but his daughter fearing he would be making pedophiles feel uncomfortable. Another unfortunate story involves a speech given by a middle school principal about how mathematics will no longer be a part of the curriculum at his school. Nothing was gained from the story and no plot twist was involved.
However, the stories that flopped are outweighed by the greater number of successful stories. “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories” will not disappoint. Novak’s book will be a much needed break from mundane readings assigned from professors.
The next book from Novak will be a children’s picture book with no pictures. Novak claims too many children are fixated on pictures over words and should feel as though words are their allies. The children’s book is out September 2014 titled “The Book with No Pictures.” Besides writing, Novak is working on the upcoming new Marvel comic’s film “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
“One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories” by B.J. Novak receives a 4 out of 5 Leo paw prints, proving to be a fun recreational read. Novak’s entertaining and humorous work of fiction is a book La Verne students will enjoy.
“One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories” can be found at any major book store and at Amazon.com for under $15.
Michael Saakyan can be reached at email@example.com.