Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Just read is a blog where I blog about something I just read. Here are all of the entries. And here are all of the entries that are specifically about books (i.e. IRL books, not like comic books, you know?). And here are all the entries that are specifically about audiobooks which are read by their author.

Last year, I wrote about three (3) books which I didn't read, but listened to via Audible. The idea was to listen to audiobooks read by their authors, and all the works I chose were by relatively funny people whose work I enjoy as comedians or actors. The first was Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, which was followed by B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories and Tina Fey's Bossypants.

Toward the end of 2016, I transitioned mainly into reading comic books and only a few occasional IRL books outside of my podcast listening. But since I recently discovered a way to better destroy my podcast backlog, I had room for listening to Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

Offerman is best known as the actor who plays Ron Swanson in NBC's Parks and Recreation, which is going to be a show that goes down as having one of the best casts of all time probably. I knew this book was memoir-ish, and subsequently expected some type of detailing of life similar to Fey's Bossypants. Instead, Offerman takes on a single thesis: Tips for how to live a delicious life, as the title puts it. These tips are presented in the context of his own life story, of course, but the driving through-point made the book a remarkably easy and enjoyable listen. As a side note, early on: If you've never seen Offerman's stand-up production, American Ham, it's well worth your while, and serves as a bit of a companion to this book if you're still considering whether to read it.

Early in the book, Offerman brings up the relevant point that he is not actually very Ron-Swanson-like. This gets mentioned often, due to the common misconception that must exist -- since Ron Swanson has a mustache, loves woodworking, drinks whiskey and eats steak, and since Nick Offerman at least sometimes has a mustache, loves woodworking, drinks whiskey and eats steak, it's easy to see why people might think he's "playing himself" in that role. But he puts that to bed with one simple fact: He sometimes eats salad.

Paddle Your Own Canoe is filled with Offerman's worldviews on everything from hard work to hobbies to religion to learning and growth. Perhaps because I found myself aligning with his stances so often, as they regularly reflected my own, the text seems to me like an agreeable playbook for how to live, and live well.

a very good portrait of the author.

a very good portrait of the author.

  • Offerman's thoughts on religion? It's fine to celebrate whatever you want and believe in whatever stories you want to believe in ("I think the Bible is largely an amazing and beautiful book of fictional stories from which we can glean the most wholesome lessons about how to treat one another decently"). Don't bring it into schools or lawmaking, and don't try to force it down other peoples' throats. Check.
  • His primary, one-liner life advice? "Don't be an asshole." He claims this is the main backbone of every religious text as well. I'm constantly working to improve my awareness of others and my surroundings, working to become more empathetic and think of the people I love before I think of myself. It's hard sometimes, but like Offerman mentions, the deed of doing that thinking as often as possible is the most important part of the process in not being an asshole. Super-check.
  • Regularly, Offerman laments the laziness of younger generations in the broad-strokes sense of kids being unwilling to go outside and do things. Using your phone and watching hours on hours of TV are un-Offerman-like character traits; I love watching TV and watch it almost daily, but lately I've been trying to replace some of those hours with either reading or other, more productive tasks ... like maybe writing in this blog more often. Good enough for a check.
  • Here's a quote that directly captures Offerman's view on why he eats vegetables: "I eat a bunch of spinach, but only to clean out my pipes to make room for more ribs, fool! I will submit to fruit and zucchini, yes, with gusto, so that my steak-eating machine will continue to masticate delicious charred flesh at an optimal running speed. By consuming kale, I am buying myself bonus years of life, during which I can eat a shit-ton more delicious meat. You don’t put oil in your truck because it tastes good. You do it so your truck can continue burning sweet gasoline and hauling a manly payload." Quadruple-check, my guy
  • Perhaps most appealing and aspirational to me is his quote on continued learning, a stance that he borrowed from his Sensai: "My favorite rule from Sensei was, 'Always maintain the attitude of a student.' When a person thinks they have finished learning, that is when bitterness and disappointment can set in, as that person will wake up every day wondering when someone is going to throw a parade in their honor for being so smart. As human beings, we, by the definition of our very natures, can never be perfect. This means that as long as we are alive and kicking, we can be improving ourselves." A large part of why I'm reading more (when I'm not reading Batman comics, I mean) is to continually try to expand my view on everything from process thinking to creativity. Solid check here.

Canoe is filled with more of these bite-sized bits of philosophy and worldview -- far too many to list here, but a great percentage of with I agree. A good dodging on Offerman's part is to avoid making the book an overly "manly" thing, which can be an easy trapping to fall into with some of his subject manner. This is again something associated with his character on Parks and Rec, as Ron Swanson is presented as a man's man, the most manly man, etc. While Offerman engages in "manly" pursuits, in the stereotypical sense, like his passions for woodworking and whiskey, he makes sure to denounce this descriptor from the get-go. He frequently mentions his family, and specifically his sisters, who grew up on his parents' farm with him and therefore have similar acumens for woodworking and tool literacy in general; on a broader scale, the women who shaped him as a young person and the women who continue to shape him are large topics in this book. His love for his wife is presented as the most important thing in his life.

Offerman's work struck me not just for its content, which is philosophical in a happily surprising way, but also for its overall competency. He's a great writer from a craft standpoint, and while I'm sure he was also helped by a great editor, Canoe stands out among the three other books I mentioned above for its superior wordsmithing. Holistically speaking, it was a pleasure of a read and it prompted me to immediately begin his second book, Gumption, which I'll be writing about in the near future, I'm sure.

Paddle Your Own Canoe 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.