Bonus post! Bradbury isn’t the only thing I’ve been reading lately. In fact I just finished a book a couple of hours ago. Released last year, and then in paperback last month, it’s a collection of short stories by B. J. Novak (best known for his work on The Office) entitled One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.
That’s the best way to describe it, at least initially. There’s a lot more that can be said about it, but hilarious is the first thing that comes to mind. Most of the stories are truly funny, and I don’t mean just like “Oh, that’s funny.” I mean actually laughing aloud in the pizzeria on your lunch break funny (true story).
Beyond the humor though there’s a surprising level of depth. Novak’s story ideas range from novel to flat-out absurdist, but he’s able to successfully imagine and portray… well, anyone, it seems. Children, young girls, men, women, famous people; all come to life and even the most bizarre stories — like “The Impatient Billionaire and the Mirror for Earth,” or “Johnny Depp, Fate, and the Double-Decker Hollywood Tour Bus,” or even “The Best Thing in the World Awards” — seem possible. It’s quite a feat, because some of these stories are so hilariously off-beat it would be hard to take them seriously; but somehow you can anyway.
There’s a lot to love in this collection, but one of my personal favorites was “Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley.” It spins out of the endless stories in the tabloids of Elvis been seen long after his death. And it’s pretty brilliant, I have to say. “Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy)” subtly plays on the fantasy that most kids have at some point, that they’re secretly the child of someone successful and powerful. And “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster” is a sort of absurd tale that quickly becomes a powerful meditation on life — and somehow is a cliche that avoids ever feeling like one. I’m sure we’ve all heard life compared to a roller coaster. But somehow this story feels original despite the probably infinite amount of times we’ve all heard and will continue to hear the comparison.
There are some stories that are literally only a few lines of text in the middle of an otherwise empty page, like “Romance, Chapter One.” There are tons of examples of exercises like this, where people write stories in two sentences, or six words, such as Hemingway’s famous short story: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” But despite how many times I see things like this, it never ceases to amaze me how just a few words or a few sentences can tell a full story. Even if there’s not much substance to the story, there’s a lot of power in the brevity and in the wealth of possibility that brevity conveys.
There’s a certain sense of continuity in these stories. Novak makes references here and there to characters from earlier stories, and it always put a smile on my face to catch a character from another story popping up later on. It feels like a sort of inside joke between Novak and the reader, and it makes the stories feel like there’s a common thread whereas they might otherwise feel like just a disparate collection of humorous tales.
One more thing (pun intended) that I’d like to note. A few times throughout the book, and at the very end, Novak includes “Discussion Questions,” which I took to be a sort of parody on the kind of questions you find in classes or included in “book club” books. They’re all pretty funny, and illuminate how foolish legitimate discussion questions can sometimes be. Through his comedy Novak highlights a lot of things that we might take seriously normally, but which, seen through the lens of comedy, we might realize are kind of silly. It’s a thread that kind of runs through a lot of these stories.
Ultimately I can say without a doubt that I highly recommend this book. It’s funny, but also deep, and touches on a lot of topics that you might not expect in stories like this. It’s also a really fast read; I finished it in a few days, and most of the reading was during my lunch breaks. The pages practically turn themselves.
You should probably go pick up a copy, now. You won’t regret it.