Just read: 'Gumption' by Nick Offerman

Just read: 'Gumption' by Nick Offerman

This is the current stopping point for me in a little mini-run of listening to audiobooks read by their comedian authors. in 2016-17, I read Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe. This year, I've done Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King and most recently Amy Poehler's Yes Please, now wrapping up with Nick Offerman's second book, Gumption

The book's subtitle, Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers, sums up very well what we're getting ourselves into with this read. Offerman hand-chooses a list of 21 people, all Americans, who he views as great in some way. He proceeds to write what amounts to a mini-biography of each person's life, delving most deeply into instances or characteristics that support his thesis of what makes this person great. In many cases, for the folks on Offerman's list who are alive, he was able to sit and do an interview with them for this book, and he describes these conversations with relish; throughout the read, it's clear that Offerman took a lot of joy in writing this book.

In most every chapter, Offerman also applies the greatness of the American currently in question to society in a broader sense.

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Just read: 'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler

Just read: 'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler

First things first: Poehler is perhaps the least talented book writer of the bunch I've read so far, though it's tough to tell with Ansari since his book had a cowriter attached to it. Whatever shortcomings Yes Please has in terms of form or function -- which I'll get to -- are actually made up for a bit by the structure of the audiobook itself.

Poehler speaks directly to the listener at times and has special guests come into the booth to read portions of her book; in most cases, these were portions that were actually written by the special guests. Seth Meyers, Mike Schur (creator of Parks & Recreation) and Poehler's mother and father are guests that have extended portions, and Meyers reads an entire chapter that he wrote for the book. It's fun to hear Meyers and Schur with Poehler, cracking jokes and running through a list of alternative names that Schur considered for the Parks & Rec character Leslie Knope. The result is a feeling that you benefitted from choosing the audiobook medium, like you got a little something extra, which is nice.

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Just read: 'The Bassoon King' by Rainn Wilson

Just read: 'The Bassoon King' by Rainn Wilson

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.

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

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

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.

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Everything I read in 2016

Everything I read in 2016

At the beginning of the year I made a goal to read more than I had in the past. Since graduating college in December 2012, I had barely read any books at all -- choosing instead to spend my time listening to music, listening to podcasts or reading Twitter / articles / etc. So I used a conscious effort to seek out authors I had an interest in, and started down that road.

Ultimately I wound up reading 14 books in 2016, which isn't a ton, but that number probably represents the most books I've read in a single year since high school. Amongst the books I read was work by Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King -- the top three authors I had on my list when I started this effort in January. I know I'll read more by them next year, even as I expand into different things.

I also picked up reading comic books, which I couldn't leave out of this post. Focusing on trade paperbacks for the sake of collectability and ease of reading, I read titles mainly with the Batman and Star Wars realms, coming to a total of 25 trade paperbacks.

A full list of all the books and trades I read this year is below. I made the effort of writing about everything I read this year as a way to keep myself engaged on my goal, so I've linked to all the blogs I wrote as well.

And, if you're so inclined, tweet me the best things you read this year and I'll start compiling a list of titles to look into.

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Just read: Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Just read: Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Bossypants is the third audiobook I've listened to (following Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance and B.J. Novak's One More Thing), following the theme of listening to funny people read their books to me. Tina Fey is very good at this, better than Novak and at least as good as Ansari (who I thought was really, really good at it). 

Fey's book is a more traditional autobiography (albeit an extremely sharp, witty and overall hilarious one), telling her story from growing up in Pennsylvania to getting her start in improv at the Second City in Chicago to her early days at Saturday Night Live ("Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity") and finally her success with 30 Rock. She is extremely humble and honest throughout the book, discussing low points with transparency and letting readers in on intimate moments through her life. Equally as intriguing are the sometimes silly, yet thematically revealing, chapters on family, work/life balance (or lack thereof, when you're in charge of a whole TV show), and mundane things like driving across Pennsylvania for the holidays with your parents or in-laws.

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Just read: B.J. Novak's 'One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories'

Just read: B.J. Novak's 'One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories'

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.

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Just read: Aziz Ansari's 'Modern Romance'

Just read: Aziz Ansari's 'Modern Romance'

Well, I'm putting this under my "just read" moniker but... I have to admit that I didn't actually read this book. Aziz Ansari read it to me and I listened. A while ago, I realized that I stopped listening to books on Audible (after having gone through a few late last year) and that I'd amassed something like nine credits without paying attention. So I canceled my subscription and used up all my credits on one specific type of book:

  1. Aziz Ansari - Modern Romance (read by Aziz Ansari)
  2. Tina Fey - Bossypants (read by Tina Fey)
  3. Neil Patrick Harris - Choose Your Own Autobiography (read by Neil Patrick Harris)
  4. B.J. Novak - One More Thing (read by B.J. Novak)
  5. Nick Offerman - Paddle Your Own Canoe (read by Nick Offerman)
  6. Nick Offerman - Gumption (read by Nick Offerman)
  7. Amy Poehler - Yes Please (read by Amy Poehler)
  8. Rainn Wilson - Bassoon King (read by Rainn Wilson)

I theorized that listening to books by funny people, read by those funny people, would be not just funny, but funnier than reading their books on the printed page in my own little voice in the back of my head. So far, this idea has a perfect, 100 percent hit rate (currently one book in). Listening to Aziz Ansari read Modern Romance was enjoyable and funny, as expected -- and beyond the surface level enjoyment, hearing an author read their own work lets you notice emphases, pauses, etc., where the author wants you to notice them, which affects the way you digest their work (in a positive way, IMO). 

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