Returning to my 2016 trend of listening to audiobooks read by by their comedian authors (Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe to date), I recently went through Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King. This is a memoir that falls most in line with Fey's book out of that bunch, but stands out for how deeply it delves into religion, spirituality and fuck-ups.
Wilson grew up learning the ways of the Bahá'í faith, which is a religion that extolls the value and worthiness of all religions, and emphasizes the worth and equality of all people. Bahá'ís believe that there is one God, regardless of whatever name any specific religion assigns to that God. Wilson's walkthrough of the faith is holistic, and he references it in moments of storytelling about his own life to provide insight into his thought processes, or as a pillar to bounce retroactive thoughts off.
At first I was curious to see how this would go -- I'm personally quite nonreligious at the moment, and I can't say that listening to anyone talk about religion is something I'd sign up for. Certain conversations that stem from the starting point of religion can be interesting to me, though, and this is where my interests not only lined up with the way in which Wilson wrote his book, but as I increasingly found, with the way in which the Bahá'í faith seems to function. Most every time Wilson explained something about the faith, I found myself nodding my head and thinking, uh-huh, mm-hmm, that sounds pretty good to me.
From a portion of the book where Wilson is expanding on the concept of morality, and commenting on being fascinated with how morality has become a taboo topic in society, especially amongst young people:
The key thing with any discussion of morality, especially from a religious perspective, is that any whiff of judgment, condescension and arrogance needs to be completely taken out of the conversation. And hell. And damnation. And original sin. Ludicrous ideas.
This makes very good sense to me, and is a +1 in the pros column for the Bahá'í ideology. I grew up attending mass and weeknight Sunday school at a Catholic church up through about the eighth grade, and at some point during high school it began to irk me -- and continues to irk me -- that the religion utilizes negative reinforcement regularly. This isn't to say I am fully against Catholicism as a whole; I see many positive aspects within it, and am especially interested and drawn to the community that it brings together in positive ways, but the specific, general topic of "...or else you'll go to hell" never sat well with me.
The overarching themes of respecting all religions and people equally is also very dope, and a much-needed message in today's social climate. Wilson regularly brings up stories from his past, during times in which he found himself relatively detached from his faith as he moved to New York and did the types of things that young people do when they move to New York, and uses them as proof about why people need to rely on a set of morals to guide their way through the universe. It's a positive message and I found myself feeling positive thoughts throughout much of this read; Wilson is forthcoming with problems he's faced in the past, even and especially the serious ones that he chooses to mention, and spends a good chunk of time toward the back end of the book explaining the initiative he helps oversee (Lidè), which helps educate young girls in Haiti. The way he writes about giving back is inspirational, especially bounced against the morals he has done a good job of throughout his story.
I don't mean to make it seem like Wilson is a new role model or anything along those lines; the book is written in a humble manner and managed to leave an impression on me because it came along in a way I didn't expect. I'm not exactly going to start practicing the Bahá'í faith all of a sudden, but the last thing I expected when I picked up a book featuring a (pretty funny) forward by Dwight Schrute was to be nodding my head in agreement at the ideologies of a religion whose name I'd never heard.
Wilson's background is in theater, and he explains how his passion for acting replaced, in a way, the passion he held for his faith as a younger person when he got a little older.
Later, as I was further along in my spiritual and artistic journey, I made some important realizations about this phase of my life. I came to see that my passion and zeal for faith when I was younger had merely transitioned to a passion and zeal for art and theater. There was still a religious fervor about what we were doing. We wanted to turn people on, ignite their consciousness. Both Baha'is and downtown theater artists wanted to change the world and touch people's hearts but in different (and related) ways.
This is a nice way to look at most anything that most any young person gets really into during their 20s and 30s, and it's also a quote that stuck out to me because of the position I find myself in at this stage of my life, spiritually speaking. Perhaps I'll one day look back at my 20s and think that my spiritual energy was directed into ... blogging about books and going out to bars, I guess? It's an idea to keep the mind open to, either way.
Wilson also knows how to pen a phrase, probably because this guy sure has read a good amount of theater stuff. Here's one that stuck out:
Because I was so young, my memories pop like technicolor acid-dream postcards spliced and pasted together, flickering in a mental strobe-light.
That's a good-ass sentence.
Here's another passage, about the birth of his son; his wife, Holiday, gave birth in an extremely terrifying manner during which she lost a lot of blood. It is an extremely emotional story, well-told here, that may or may not have produced one of those single-tear moments during the reading.
Someone brought Walter out to me as I was deep in prayer in the hallway and it was there, having been through two hours of living hell, that I had my most sacred and memorable moment ever. [...]
I held him in his little blanket and looked into his gigantic blue eyes, and he looked right back into mine with a strong, quizzical expression that said, "What the HELL is going on here?! WHO ARE YOU?!" tears rolled down my face as I peered into his eyes and through them. Down. Into and inside the essence of this tiny, wide-eyed, gorgeous boy.
At the end of a really insane segment, Wilson is able to reign in the emotion, corral it into one moment, and make you laugh all at once.
Of course, there is the more or less required portion of the book where Wilson takes the deep plunge into telling stories about his time spent playing Dwight Schrute on The Office. These are enjoyable chapters in this book; he writes about how the show nearly never made it to air, then was nearly canceled two or three times before it ever caught on. There are fun stories about himt auditioning for the part and getting to work with Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, and Steve Carell for the first time in the roles that would define their careers. The "off-camera" stories are my favorite -- one that stands out specifically is actually a kind of on-camera story. Due to the way the cameras filmed the show, the cast had to constantly be sitting at their characters' desks during scenes shot in the conference room or in Michael Scott's office, because the camera might pan over and catch a glimpse of the Dunder Mifflin bullpen. This meant that all these actors had to sit at desks pretending to work for sometimes entire days -- and in the first couple seasons of shooting the show, they didn't even have a working Internet connection on those machines!
I heavily enjoyed this memoir, and it's probably only behind Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe in terms of this kick of audiobook comedian-person memoirs that I've been on. Up next is Amy Poehler Yes Please, which I'll probably be done with by the end of the week.
The Bassoon King 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.