B.J. Novak is a brilliant sort of triple threat: he’s an accomplished actor, a published writer, and he’s devastatingly attractive. It’s infuriating. But, having recently read his first book, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, I must stand humbly in the long shadow of his literary prowess.
Who knew that beneath his boyish good looks, the temp from The Office was hiding an enviable way with words? I honestly haven’t read anything quite this good in a long time. Novak’s writing style is equal parts eloquent, witty, inventive, and incisive—in short, everything an aspiring writer like myself hopes to be.
One More Thing is a collection of short stories—sometimes very short, as in little more than a few sentences strung together—that range from humorous to heartfelt to crass to castigating. Sometimes bits of stories show up in other stories, but most of them stand on their own. The best thing about Novak’s writing is his talent for taking a simple or mundane conceit and turning it on its head. For example, one story begins:
If I had a nickel for every time I spilled a cup of coffee, I’d be rich!
Here’s how I’d do it.
While I will concede that some of the stories are more memorable than others, the book as a whole left me longing to spend more time floating around inside Novak’s glorious, Harvard-educated brain.
Here’s a look at a few of what I thought were the best stories:
- “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg”: A man dies and goes to heaven. When he arrives, he’s eager to see his grandmother, whom he hasn’t seen since he was ten. But she’s more interested in . . . let’s call it “canoodling” . . . with Frank Sinatra than in visiting with her grandson.
- “‘Rithmetic”: An elementary school principal with a great disdain for mathematics does away with the subject altogether. Really wish he’d been my principal.
- “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”: You really need to read this one for yourself. It’s inspired.
- “Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy)”: This one is a strong contender for my favorite of the whole book. A young boy whose parents don’t allow him to eat sugary, name-brand cereals gets his hand on a box of said contraband and discovers he’s won a large sum of money. He then embarks on a strange and satisfyingly unexpected journey to claim his prize. Again, please just read this one for yourself. It’s so good.
- “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle”: I mean, the title alone. Come on.
- “J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote”: A struggling, aspiring poet makes a name for himself with a roundly-praised new translation of Don Quixote. He then feels compelled to best himself with more translations of other books in other languages. I won’t give away the ending, but his Flight-of-Icarus-esque career comes to a screeching halt when his translation of a book that needed no new interpretation elicits the following comment from Stephen King: “Has the world lost its goddamn mind?!”
The other great thing about this book? Novak’s shout-out to Mindy Kaling in the acknowledgements (because who doesn’t absolutely adore her?): “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.”
As Ernest Hemingway’s character says in Midnight in Paris when Gil Pender asks him to read his manuscript, “If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.” In this regard, I hated One More Thing. I hated it because I didn’t write it myself. Which is to say, I f%&king loved this book.
When the universe summoned B.J. Novak into existence, he was given more than his fair share of talent, and I wish I could siphon a bit of it for my own writing. But, until modern medicine perfects the talent transplant (and when it does, believe you me, this inordinately gifted asshole will be squarely in my crosshairs), I’ll be anxiously awaiting the arrival of Novak’s next masterpiece.