By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Short Stories, Fiction
Author: B.J. Novak
Format: Hardcover, 280 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pub Date: February 4, 2014
Summary from Publisher:
A boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes-only to discover that claiming the winnings might unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins-turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A new arrival in Heaven, overwhelmed with options, procrastinates over a long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We meet Sophia, the first artificially intelligent being capable of love, who falls for a man who might not be ready for it himself; a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who try to figure out how to host an intervention in the era of Facebook. Along the way, we learn why wearing a red T-shirt every day is the key to finding love, how February got its name, and why the stock market is sometimes just down.
Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, One More Thing has at its heart the most human of phenomena: love, fear, hope, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element just that might make a person complete. Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, the many pieces in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, sharp eye, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.
– From Chapters-Indigo website
Book Review by Zara from
The Bibliotaphe Closet:
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak is a sassy debut collection of short stories that will confront the reader with what feels like a slap in the face—a narrative that will obliterate the ideas readers have about the convention of the short story format.
This wallop of a book doesn’t tease or hint at readers with a subtlety of what needs to be unwrapped or revealed through a number of paragraphs or pages. The stories in this book will flash themselves buck naked screaming, You see this?!? This is a story. You didn’t think so, but it is.
But, it isn’t an unintelligible collection that brags plus points for feigning surprise or unconformity. Underneath the antics of its narrative, which doesn’t pull you in, but rather grabs your full attention right off the first few lines and will keep you hooked until the close of the short; there is an incredibly intelligent and wry humour that will make you laugh at the truth and audacity of its claims.
From an adaptation of the Tortoise and Hare story in Rematch, to our presumptions extrapolated in No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg, the brutal honesty of a date with a warlord, and the result of a book title that’s screwed up in “The Something” by John Grisham, to the secret thoughts of a psychotherapist in The Girl Who Gave Great Advice—Novak’s stories will resound with hilarious yet, honest, almost hyperbolic fables, which still sends a deeper message.
The premise found in most of his stories are live feeds of what would normally remain theoretical ideas, but has found a place to flourish and rebel against our thought processes in such stories like ‘Rithmetic, or The Ambulance Driver, The Impatient Billionaire and the Mirror for Earth, and The Man Who Invented the Calendar.
But, there’s romance, too—that of a real kind, a brutal reenactment of thoughts and dialogue that’s unfiltered in stories like Missed Connection: Grocery Spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on Wednesday, The Beautiful Girl in the Bookstore, and one of my favourites in the collection: Sophia, which will coerce readers to rethink their presumptions about love, relationship, and what intrinsically makes us human.
And Novak isn’t afraid to use famous people as his characters, those who readers will not only recognize, but will consider in a new light and connect to in stories like Walking on Eggshells (or: When I Loved Tony Robbins), The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela, Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley, and Johnny Depp, Fate, and the Double-Decker Hollywood Tour Bus. The truth and comedy found in Tony Robbins’ motivational speaking is ever so familiar, as is our beliefs regarding Elvis Presley’s post-death sightings, or the magnitude of Johnny Depp’s stardom and the politics of celebrity.
As implied by Novak’s book subtitle, Stories and Other Stories, there are a few stories, which in length look like afterthoughts, sometimes merely a paragraph, sometimes a few lines, and yet stories that deserve deeper reading and reflection. These story snippets can be found in Romance: Chapter One, The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate, Kindness Amongst Cakes, Being Young Was Her Thing, The Vague Restaurant Critic, Regret Is Just Perfectionsism Plus Time, to name a few.
Or perhaps the “Other” stories refer to contextual otherness, the vast range of Novak’s topics, a reference point perhaps to the multi-layered stories behind the short stories he’s laid out for us. Or perhaps it refers to that which we cannot know, but only extrapolate, in the white space of pages found in his stories.
The cover design, too, is a crisp white with no pictorial, no heavy banners, no hint to what may contain inside. It has only the title and the author’s name inscribed in the stark contrast of black ink. It makes you kind of wonder how the creative choice in designing this cover might be in relation to the context of the collection itself. Perhaps, this is another tool to reinforce the otherness that the book’s subtitle suggests.
(Or perhaps I read too much into things and the book should be read at face-value.)
Readers, too, will also be pleasantly surprised at the ingenuity of the author for re-inserting characters from one short story to another at random. While each story itself carries its own narrative and self-contained premise, the reader can discover connections intermittently throughout the collection.
From silly antics, to unexpected antagonism, to theoretical outcomes, famous characters, unfiltered thoughts, and absurd ideas, to stories that create humour that can make you clutch your stomach or snort out loud in discomfort, even stories that may make you somewhat introspective and mindful of your presumptions and ideologies—this collection of short stories in neither short in quality, variety, nor creativity.
If you’re a new reader to the short story form, this is a book you’ll be glad to be introduced to. If you’re a seasoned reader and lover of the short story craft, you’ll be pleased to discover the amplitude and the audacity Novak’s stories take that you’ll certainly be surprised and highly entertained. And for those readers who overlook the short story with some contempt or distrust, this book may just slap you silly in your reading until you change your mind.
B.J. Novak can now add “accomplished debut short story writer” to his already jam-packed accolades as actor, director, and executive producer, and a graduate of Harvard University. Obviously, not a dumb guy. And most definitely, a funny one, too.
Oh and—one more thing—this will be a book you’ll want to come back to again and again.
Characters: 5 stars
Pacing: 5 stars
Cover Design: 3.5 stars
Plot: 5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Alfred A. Knopf for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
B.J. Novak is a writer and actor best known for his work on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning comedy series The Office as an actor, writer, director, and executive producer. He is also known for his stand-up comedy performances and his roles in motion pictures such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks. He is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in English and Spanish Literature.
– From inside jacket
You can follow B.J. on Twitter.
If you’ve read One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak, which story did you enjoy the most?
Who’s your favourite short story writer? Your favourite short story?