B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is the second title in my recent Audible quest of listening to books written by funny people, read by the funny people who wrote them. One More Thing is a collection of short stories (64 of them, to be exact) from Novak, who is best known for his writing and his portrayal of the character Ryan on The Office. This is Novak's first book, and it balances the expected humor with occasional, surprisingly cutting pieces of insight and depth.
The average running length of each story is probably somewhere between three and five pages (tough to fully gauge when you're listening, but I can guess); some are extremely short, while there are a few that run quite long. The lengthier stories are amongst his best work here, and they're peppered in throughout so if you're reading the book in order, there's plenty of variation from story to story in terms of length, seriousness and tone. Here's one of my favorite stories on the way shorter side of things, presented in full, below:
The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day
I was sad that summer was over. But I was happy that it was over for my enemies, too.
This quick turn of phrase manifests itself often through Novak's short stories. One semi-frequent trick of his is putting a new spin on old fables, like in the story that opens the book ("The Rematch"), which sees the hare absolutely obliterating the tortoise after training for months to beat him in a rematch. "Slow and steady wins the race, 'til truth and talent claim their place," he writes.
From an audiobook angle, One More Thing is produced very well; guest spots throughout its runtime include Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson, cohorts of Novak's on The Office, alongside Katy Perry, Lena Dunham and more. These guest readers bring some stories to life, like Dunham's contributions to "Sophia," which is about a man who orders a sex robot and winds up receiving the first-ever machine capable of experiencing love...and he returns it, because it's not really what he wanted. This story is a highlight of the book for me, and good evidence of one of the longer pieces where Novak shines.
Other such examples include "Kellogg's, or the Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy," which sees a young boy win a $100,000 cash prize in a cereal box, only to have his perception of family unraveled when he takes it directly to the cereal company after his parents say they don't want to claim it, and "One of These Days, We Have To Do Something About Willie," during which a group of friends attempt to stage an intervention for a mutual friend whose alcohol abuse they're worried about, then learn he's kinder and more put-together than most of them. These meatier cuts showcase Novak's penchant for keeping a twist or turn lurking around the corner. His prose is witty and it keeps the pages turning quickly.
One of my favorite cuts was "No One Goes To Heaven To See Dan Fogelberg," which appears early on and immediately follows another highlight, "Dark Matter." In "No One Goes To Heaven...," Novak delivers his own idea of what Heaven might be like (everyone can watch every dead artist, ever, play an intimate-feeling show in a huge arena, every night, for free) with a familial backdrop. "The Man Who Invented the Calendar" prescribes laugh-out-loud explanations to the weirdness of some part of our calendars (like why months have either 30 or 31 days, but one month has 28, and how certain holidays came to exist).
One More Thing's final story, "J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote," is one of its most sprawling and enjoyable pieces, wrapping up a fun and better-than-expected book. I think the front half is more impressive than its second, but I'd recommend reading it all the way through in order rather than skipping around to the shortest (or longest) stories, which is apparently a thing that people do when reading short story collections.
Novak is currently writing a book with Mindy Kaling about their relationship, which will undoubtedly be worth checking out, but I hope to see him return to short stories or a novel in the future. It would be especially interesting to see him tackle a novel, perhaps something serious with the humor taking a moodier spot in the backdrop; his writing voice is enjoyable and something like that from him would be welcome.
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.