Love This Thing
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
First Line: “In the aftermath of an athletic humiliation on an unprecedented scale–a loss to a tortoise in a footrace so staggering that, his tormenters teased, it would not only live on in the record books, but would transcend sport itself, and be taught to children around the world in textbooks and bedtime stories for centuries; that hundreds of years from now, children who had never heard of a ‘tortoise’ would learn that it was basically a fancy type of turtle from hearing about this very race–the hare retreated, understandably, into a substantial period of depression and self-doubt.”
Yes, this really is Novak’s opening line. “What a delightful sentence,” I said, arriving at the period. This guy is pitch-perfect. Seriously. I can’t remember having ever read something with sentences so snappy and smart. Like–every sentence.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised, though. Novak does scripts. He understands realistic dialogue. Still, I felt a sort of awe while reading this collection. I don’t really think I had expectations, but I sure was impressed. He does slice-of-life in the best way with stories that are fun, light, and refreshing. Since they don’t ask to be taken seriously, we readers don’t have to grope around for lofty “meanings.” They digest quickly; and I was entertained. (Coming from over-analytical me–that’s high praise!)
Novak’s humor really shines throughout the collection. Certain stories are followed by “discussion questions.” Although these prompts are relevant to the story at hand, they also function as the punch line. In other stories, the protagonists are celebrities. We follow Johnny Depp on a motorcycle in Hollywood, and join author John Grisham at his breakfast table in Virginia. It’s a clever spin to use cameo roles in writing.
My favorite stories include a young man trying to reunite with his grandmother in heaven, a secret discussions on the exact properties of dark matter, and a middle school kid learning about his parentage from a box of cereal. Novak’s content has a great range, and I see potential for him to break in to children’s literature. I’m thinking something similar to the world of Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories. Read Novak’s “‘Rithmetic” to get a better idea.
Then read them all! This collection is a winner.
Bottom Line: Buy the book and enjoy reading it over a week, then loan it to all the cool people you know and plan a time to meet en masse for those discussion questions.