One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories [NOOK Book]

Overview

B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut that signals the arrival of a brilliant new voice in American fiction.

A boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes—only to discover that claiming the winnings might unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins—turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A...
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One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

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Overview

B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut that signals the arrival of a brilliant new voice in American fiction.

A boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes—only to discover that claiming the winnings might unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins—turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A new arrival in Heaven, overwhelmed with options, procrastinates over a long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We meet Sophia, the first artificially intelligent being capable of love, who falls for a man who might not be ready for it himself; a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who try to figure out how to host an intervention in the era of Facebook.  Along the way, we learn why wearing a red T-shirt every day is the key to finding love, how February got its name, and why the stock market is sometimes just . . . down.

Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, One More Thing has at its heart the most human of phenomena: love, fear, hope, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element just that might make a person complete. Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, the many pieces in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, sharp eye, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2014

This effervescent literary debut comes from TV writer B.J. Novak, best known for his writing and directing on The Office. In this collection, his subjects range from a sex doll with artificial intelligence to a cranky old man who feels unfairly robbed of credit for designing a math problem. These tales are funny, imaginative, and poignant by turns, but always cognizant that a storyteller’s first job is to entertain.

Library Journal
01/01/2014
What if real-life investigative reporter Chris Hansen (To Catch a Predator) went to a Justin Bieber concert? What if Nelson Mandela were the subject of a celebrity roast on Comedy Central? What if robots learn to love but their owners just want to keep it casual? What if the tortoise and the hare had a rematch? Writer and actor Novak (The Office; Inglourious Basterds) answers all these questions and more in his funny, engaging debut collection. Selections range from snippets of conversation to one-page modern fables to more fully realized selections, such as the touching "One of These Days." Novak is at his most adroit when examining the impact of mobile devices and social networking on our lives. We place plaintive and rambling "Missed Connections" ads when one-night stands go wrong and demand extreme forms of "Closure" when longer relationships fail. VERDICT Novak is a fresh, welcome voice in humor with wide-ranging potential. Die-hard Office fans may be attracted because of his connection, but contemporary humor aficionados and fans of David Sedaris, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Mindy Kaling, Novak's costar and friend, are most likely to pick this one up and should enjoy it. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/13.]—Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
…[a] very funny debut collection of stories…Mr. Novak has an idiosyncratic voice that's distinctively his own, though One More Thing…will also produce lots of comparisons to other writers. His more fully developed stories have a sense of the absurdities—and sadnesses—of contemporary American life reminiscent of George Saunders's short fiction. Others will more likely elicit comparisons to David Sedaris's books (without the curmudgeonly persona), Steve Martin's prose pieces (with less conceptual strangeness) and Woody Allen's Without Feathers and Side Effects (with less emphasis on big, existential questions). It is Mr. Novak's gift for channeling the way we talk and think today that propels many of the funnier tales here.
The New York Times Book Review - Teddy Wayne
The melancholy sensibility and verbal élan elevate Novak's book beyond a small-beer exercise in clever monkeyshines and into a stiff literary cocktail, with a healthy pour of vintage Woody Allen and a dash of George Saunders strained through a Donald Barthelme sieve—droll and smart in spades, but often humane and vulnerable, too…[a] hugely pleasurable book; beneath the hilarious, high-concept set pieces and satires here beats a surprisingly tender heart.
Publishers Weekly
11/25/2013
Novak’s debut contains a buckshot 64 fun and funny short stories crammed into a single volume. Part Etgar Keret, part McSweeney’s, these tidy tales from the alum of TV’s The Office depart from the “how I became famous” comedian’s biography for a decidedly more literary turn. The collection’s opening story, “The Rematch,” is a clever sequel to a classic in which the hare pressures the tortoise into a rematch in an attempt to get past the most shameful defeat of his life. In another standout, “Sophia,” a young man custom-orders a sex doll, but is disappointed when he discovers that it possesses artificial intelligence (the first of its kind) and the capacity to feel love. The bulk of Novak’s stories are comedic, and more than a few are surprisingly tender. “A Good Problem to Have” features a confused senior citizen pushing into an elementary school classroom to explain how he invented the two-trains-leave-the-station math problem but never got credit for it. If the collection feels uneven at times, like a series of playful asides (a handful of the entries don’t reach beyond a few slight lines), perhaps that’s because Novak seems to have worked harder on the more substantial stories, which have the pleasing feel of being written by an author in complete control of his craft. First printing of 150,000 announced. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"It isn’t easy to make a reader laugh out loud. Even when confronted with the sharpest, funniest prose, many people will respond with nothing more than a quiet chuckle. . . . Whatever the reason, all I can say is good luck chuckling quietly during One More Thing, the wonderfully cockeyed, consistently hilarious debut from B.J. Novak. . . . Given his background in TV comedy writing as well as stand-up, it’s not surprising that Novak knows how to stick a great line or milk a funny premise with the right amount of squeeze. What’s more striking is the wild imagination he brings to these pages, taking familiar narrative constructs — a woman and a man on a blind date — and infusing them with the unexpected. . . . His style is part Steven Wright and part Charlie Kaufman, married with a sharp ear for (and satire of) contemporary pop culture. . . . . A gifted observer of the human condition and a very funny writer capable of winning that rare thing: unselfconscious, insuppressible laughter.”--Jen Chaney, The Washington Post
 
“In one of the longer entries in his very funny debut collection of stories, B. J. Novak describes a writer and translator named J. C. Audetat, who has a gift for ‘the off-the-cuff vernacular of his day’—or what might be called ‘the poetry of everyday conversations.’. . . The same might be said of Mr. Novak, whose athletic imagination and ear for ‘the language of his own time and place (that is, the vernacular of that 21st-century genus of young, hip Americans, known to frequent urban habitats on the East and West Coasts) are showcased in this volume. . . . Mr. Novak has an idiosyncratic voice that’s distinctively his own, though One More Thing will also produce lots of comparisons to other writers. His more fully developed stories have a sense of the absurdities—and sadnesses—of contemporary American life reminiscent of George Saunders’s short fiction. Others will more likely elicit comparisons to David Sedaris’s books (without the curmudgeonly persona), Steve Martin’s prose pieces (with less conceptual strangeness) and Woody Allen’s Without Feathers and Side Effects (with less emphasis on big, existential questions). . . . Mr. Novak is nimble at showing how easily the ordinary can morph into the extraordinary and adept at making us see the surreal in the everyday. . . A funny writer with a great ear, but also as a genuine storyteller with an observant eye and finely tuned emotional radar.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“B.J. Novak meets--no, exceeds--expectations in ONE MORE THING, firmly establishing him as one of the best humor writers around. . . . The varied length of the stories adds to the pleasure--it's like sampling a multicourse meal instead of gorging just on pizza. . . . Novak's writing mirrors his acting in that both rely on dry wit and dead-pan delivery. His influences run from celebrated New Yorker humorist James Thurber to Steve Martin to the Harvard Lampoon style of comedy (no wonder, as Novak was a member of the publication in college) to stand-up comedian Steven Wright. But he synthesizes those influences and has delivered something wholly original. . . . The longer stories avoid easy laugh-out-loud punch lines in favor of quirky, offbeat twists that showcase his skill as a storyteller. . . . Novak has found success as an actor, screenwriter and producer, but it turns out that the “one more thing” he added to his résumé--author--might be where his greatest talent lies.”—Andy Lewis, The Hollywood Reporter

“Novak’s high-concept, hilarious, and disarmingly commiserative fiction debut stems from his stand-up performances and his Emmy Award–winning work on the comedy series, The Office. . . . Accordingly, his more concise stories come across as brainy comedy bits, while his sustained tales covertly encompass deep emotional and psychological dimensions. An adept zeitgeist miner, Novak excels at topsy-turvy improvisations on a dizzying array of subjects, from Aesop’s fables to tabloid Elvis to our oracular enthrallment to the stock market. . . . Writing with zing and humor in the spirit of Woody Allen and Steve Martin, Novak also ventures into the realm of George Saunders and David Foster Wallace. . . . Baseline clever and fresh, at best spectacularly perceptive, and always commanding, Novak’s ingeniously ambushing stories of longing, fear, pretension, and confusion reveal the quintessential absurdities and transcendent beauty of our catchas-catch-can lives.” —Booklist, starred review
 
“Novak’s debut contains a buckshot 64 fun and funny short stories crammed into a single volume. Part Etgar Keret, part McSweeney’s, these tidy tales from the alum of TV’s The Office depart from the ‘how I became famous’ comedian’s biography for a decidedly more literary turn. . . . The bulk of Novak’s stories are comedic, and more than a few are surprisingly tender. . . . Written by an author in complete control of his craft.”—Publishers Weekly
 
"Everyone knew that B.J. Novak was smart and sexy, but funny, too!? Wow, screw that guy. I haven't laughed at words this hard since I read."—Joshua Ferris author of The Unnamed and Then We Came to the End
 
"ONE MORE THING is a funny and inventive debut collection, infused with a deadpan absurdist wit reminiscent of Woody Allen and Ian Frazier. B.J. Novak's stories are sly and playful, but they can pack a real emotional wallop." —Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches
 
"I am so relieved that I had not read B.J.'s book before I worked with him. I would just have spent every day at his feet instead of doing my job." —Emma Thompson

"Dark and hilarious, like the fudge Grandma used to make during her 'special' period. Deliciously funny!" —Jack Handey, author of Deep Thoughts and The Stench of Honolulu
 
"B.J. blew me away. He just keeps kicking short fiction in the rear, making it run ahead clutching its ass, and then he runs up and kicks it some more, and the result is one of the most aggressively, insanely awesome debuts in a while." —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
“In one of the longer entries in his very funny debut collection of stories, B. J. Novak describes a writer and translator named J. C. Audetat, who has a gift for “the off-the-cuff vernacular of his day” — or what might be called “the poetry of everyday conversations.”
The same might be said of Mr. Novak, whose athletic imagination and ear for “the language of his own time and place” (that is, the vernacular of that 21st-century genus of young, hip Americans, known to frequent urban habitats on the East and West Coasts) are showcased in this volume.”
From the Publisher
“Novak’s high-concept, hilarious, and disarmingly commiserative fiction debut stems from his stand-up performances and his Emmy Award–winning work on the comedy series, The Office. . . . Accordingly, his more concise stories come across as brainy comedy bits, while his sustained tales covertly encompass deep emotional and psychological dimensions. An adept zeitgeist miner, Novak excels at topsy-turvy improvisations on a dizzying array of subjects, from Aesop’s fables to tabloid Elvis to our oracular enthrallment to the stock market. . . . Writing with zing and humor in the spirit of Woody Allen and Steve Martin, Novak also ventures into the realm of George Saunders and David Foster Wallace. . . . Baseline clever and fresh, at best spectacularly perceptive, and always commanding, Novak’s ingeniously ambushing stories of longing, fear, pretension, and confusion reveal the quintessential absurdities and transcendent beauty of our catchas-catch-can lives.” —Booklist, starred review
 
“Novak’s debut contains a buckshot 64 fun and funny short stories crammed into a single volume. Part Etgar Keret, part McSweeney’s, these tidy tales from the alum of TV’s The Office depart from the ‘how I became famous’ comedian’s biography for a decidedly more literary turn. . . . The bulk of Novak’s stories are comedic, and more than a few are surprisingly tender. . . . Written by an author in complete control of his craft.”—Publishers Weekly
 
"Everyone knew that B.J. Novak was smart and sexy, but funny, too!? Wow, screw that guy. I haven't laughed at words this hard since I read."—Joshua Ferris author of The Unnamed and Then We Came to the End
 
"ONE MORE THING is a funny and inventive debut collection, infused with a deadpan absurdist wit reminiscent of Woody Allen and Ian Frazier. B.J. Novak's stories are sly and playful, but they can pack a real emotional wallop." —Tom Perrotta, author of Nine Inches
 
"I am so relieved that I had not read B.J.'s book before I worked with him. I would just have spent every day at his feet instead of doing my job." —Emma Thompson

"Dark and hilarious, like the fudge Grandma used to make during her 'special' period. Deliciously funny!" —Jack Handey, author of Deep Thoughts and The Stench of Honolulu
 
"B.J. blew me away. He just keeps kicking short fiction in the rear, making it run ahead clutching its ass, and then he runs up and kicks it some more, and the result is one of the most aggressively, insanely awesome debuts in a while." —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

The Daily Beast - Caryn James
"Plenty of actors have written books lately, but none as original, smart or literary as B.J. Novak's collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. It's a sign of his freshness that reviews, most with extravagant praise, have strained for comparisons. Woody Allen's sketches? Sort of, in their comic philosophical questioning, but Novak can be far more narrative. David Sedaris? Novak is less autobiographical. . .Novak's stories are absurdist yet have a surprising emotional undercurrent; they are scathingly funny about pop-culture language and clichés; they have a strong sense of character that takes him to strange places, including the minds of the tortoise and the hare as they prepare for a rematch of their classic race."
The Washington Post - Jen Chaney
"It isn't easy to make a reader laugh out loud. Even when confronted with the sharpest, funniest prose, many people will respond with nothing more than a quiet chuckle. . .Whatever the reason, all I can say is good luck chuckling quietly during One More Thing, the wonderfully cockeyed, consistently hilarious debut from B.J. Novak. . .Given his background in TV comedy writing as well as stand-up, it's not surprising that Novak knows how to stick a great line or milk a funny premise with the right amount of squeeze. What's more striking is the wild imagination he brings to these pages, taking familiar narrative constructs — a woman and a man on a blind date — and infusing them with the unexpected. . .Novak's sensibility is reminiscent of Woody Allen's but with a lot more references to texting, tweeting and using apps. His style is part Steven Wright and part Charlie Kaufman, married with a sharp ear for (and satire of) contemporary pop culture. . .A gifted observer of the human condition and a very funny writer capable of winning that rare thing: unselfconscious, insuppressible laughter."
The Hollywood Reporter - Andy Lewis
"B.J. Novak meets--no, exceeds--expectations in ONE MORE THING, firmly establishing him as one of the best humor writers around. . .The varied length of the stories adds to the pleasure--it's like sampling a multicourse meal instead of gorging just on pizza. . .Novak's writing mirrors his acting in that both rely on dry wit and dead-pan delivery. His influences run from celebrated New Yorker humorist James Thurber to Steve Martin to the Harvard Lampoon style of comedy (no wonder, as Novak was a member of the publication in college) to stand-up comedian Steven Wright. But he synthesizes those influences and has delivered something wholly original. . .The longer stories avoid easy laugh-out-loud punch lines in favor of quirky, offbeat twists that showcase his skill as a storyteller. . .Novak has found success as an actor, screenwriter and producer, but it turns out that the "one more thing" he added to his résumé--author--might be where his greatest talent lies."
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-09
A debut collection of stories, ranging from two or three sentences to 18 or so pages, from Novak, best known for his work on The Office. Given the sheer number of entries in this collection, it's not surprising that Novak has both hits and misses. Among the latter are a few sketches that read like stand-up material, occasionally witty but also occasionally falling flat. Some ideas work better in conception than in execution—"Walking on Eggshells (or: When I Loved Tony Robbins)," for example, in which the narrator is blunt about wanting to have sex with the eponymous motivational speaker, or "The Ghost of Mark Twain," in which a teacher objects to the language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and hopes to see a new edition increasing the number of times Huck uses the "N-word." At other times, however, Novak is spot-on and frequently hilarious. In "The World's Biggest Ripoff," the narrator and his family visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls and the Guinness World Records Museum and find all of them wanting. The narrator then visits an "incredibly well-executed interactive holographic exhibit on the Bernie Madoff hedge fund scam of 2009" and finds the $100 entrance fee (per person) well spent. The last piece in the collection, "J. C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote," is also the longest, so Novak has more space in which to develop his comic ideas. A translator becomes famous translating not only Miguel de Cervantes, but also Leo Tolstoy and Marcel Proust—and his final work is a new translation of The Great Gatsby into "modern" English. Novak creates a spectrum of work from the mediocre to the deliciously tongue-in-cheek. If you don't like something, just wait—a new piece is usually only a page or two away.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Many years ago, the New Statesman held a competition challenging its readers to invent improbable book titles, and the winning entry was "My Struggle, by Martin Amis." Martin, as the son of the devilishly funny Kingsley Amis, had to overcome the prejudices that accompanied his pedigree through sheer talent, on display in The Rachel Papers and following works of acid comedy. A similar resentment surfaces whenever a celebrity — let's say, James Franco — is permitted to publish a book that would not have passed muster minus a buzz-generating name. Readers, many of whom may dream of publication themselves, like to believe in a level playing field.

This may be why the VP of Knopf noted, in the publicity materials for B. J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, that she had never heard of him when she "first read the book now in your hands," though Novak had been in America's living rooms from 2005–13 as the insufferable Ryan Howard of NBC's The Office. Of course, Novak was also one of the show's chief writers, and at Harvard he majored in English and Spanish literature and worked on the Lampoon. Could it be that literature and not TV is Novak's true calling? Could it be that he should quit his day job?

Perish the thought. One More Thing shows that Novak's career in television, as a writer and an actor, goes hand-in-glove with his literary ambition, each informing and reinforcing the other. The book is less a proper story collection than a polished notebook, a look into the creative process of a comic mind. It contains not only short fiction but also bits, riffs, gags, and Deep Thoughts — as in Jack Handey's, not Blaise Pascal's. True to its title, evocative as it is of a shaggy-dog story, One More Thing contains over five dozen "stories," a few not much longer than the text in a fortune cookie:

Marie's Stupid Boyfriend
Nobody didn't play guitar "on principle." Either you can play the guitar, or you can't.
You don't "don't."
Remember him?
Much of Novak's humor stems from the comic outrage of which this is a distillate, a sense of injured disbelief at having to live in such ridiculous times with such obnoxious, such un-self-aware, such deeply flawed people. That outrage accounts for the success of The Office and the potency of every Jim Halpert reaction shot. (It is also a humbling reminder that no matter how many people you shake your head sadly at, someone is always shaking his head sadly at you.) Novak takes on vapid dates in "Julie and the Warlord" and hubristic tech titans in "The Impatient Billionaire and the Mirror for Earth." "Sophia," in which a man buys the first sex robot capable of love, sends up both our fetishization of science and the low-tech workings of the male id.

Egos are punctured throughout One More Thing, as in "MONSTER: The Roller Coaster": "The almost-legendary artist Christo was on the verge of completing a dream that he had held close through his entire career: to design an American roller coaster inspired by nothing less profound than life itself — life, the ultimate roller coaster." The ride is ultimately renamed according to the dictates of marketing, "murdered by idiot whims," and poor Christo must concede, "That's life." It's a long joke, cocked at a familiar target, but in a time when reality constantly outruns satire, it's nice to be reassured that just because something mocks itself by existing, doesn't mean it can't be mocked even harder.

Novak mines even more embarrassing aspects of the way we live now, sometimes just for comic effects and sometimes for more broadly emotional ones. "Missed Connection" and the ingenious "Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle" ("Every time we talk to Wikipedia Brown, we get distracted.") fall into the former category, while "The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate," for all it looks like a straight-ahead dig at Instagram and other social media apps, leaves the reader with an unpleasant aftertaste of a very modern loneliness.

Though many of Novak's bits are squarely in the Handey or Steve Martin vein, some of his longer efforts are genuinely acerbic, thought-provoking, or even moving; the book begins to feel like a bathroom reader with an unusually commodious intellect behind it. It would be silly to put Novak in Kingsley Amis's weight class — the two are not even playing the same sport, really — but one suspects the King would have appreciated Novak's project, to spit his venom while also entertaining and, on top of that, offering something like moral instruction, or at times a bracing dose of shame. The standout here is "One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie." Some recent college graduates are trying to stage an intervention, in Las Vegas of all places, for their party-monster friend. Here as elsewhere, Novak's prose is in a distinctly modern idiom, the short story as confessional Gawker post — or NBC teleplay, for that matter — but here as nowhere else in One More Thing, the idiom amplifies the gravity of what follows. The story is not about alcoholism or interventions; it is about finding out that your adult expertise is an illusion, that your insight into others' lives is wishful thinking. "It felt like no one had ever been our age before," the narrator says. He and his circle of friends have fixated on Willie and his problems in order to pretend that they themselves are on solid ground. There are certainly duds in One More Thing. The anxiously sophisticated "J. C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote," a riff on Borges, is memorable mostly for how uneasy it feels. But unevenness is no surprise for a book of five dozen squibs, and the duds are outweighed by the jokes and stories that provoke reflection as well as laughs. Novak even offers some pointed commentary on the joke-making process itself, first in his eerily timed "The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela" and then in the coarser story "The Bravest Thing I Ever Did." The bravest thing cannot be described herein, but the lesson that comes with it is good advice for anyone who hopes to be as funny and as wise as Novak:
It's not always enough to be brave, I realized years later. You have to be brave and contribute something positive, too. Brave on its own is just a party trick.
A writer living in southern Connecticut, Stefan Beck has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun, The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion, and other publications. He also writes a food blog, The Poor Mouth, which can be found at www.stefanbeckonline.com/tpm/.

Reviewer: Stefan Beck

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385351843
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/4/2014
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 17,230
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

B. J. Novak
B.J. Novak is a writer and actor best known for his work on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning comedy series The Office as an actor, writer, director, and executive producer. He is also known for his stand up comedy performances and his roles in motion pictures such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks. He is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in English and Spanish literature.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Hardcover edition

Chapter 1

No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg

Tim, nine years old, leaned next to his grandmother as she lay in her hospital bed. He gently kissed her face around the tubes in her nose.

“I love you, Nana,” said Tim. “I promise I’ll visit you in heaven.”

The next day, Tim’s grandmother died.

Sixty-six years after that, Tim died.

The first thing Tim did when he got to heaven was look for his wife.

He was so anxious and excited to find her that he couldn’t focus on anything else—not the fact that he had died, not the fact that he was in heaven, and certainly not his grandmother.

“Is Lynn here?” he asked everyone he met. “Yes,” they said, but he kept asking. “Is Lynn here?” “Yes,” they laughed, “you’ll see her in like two seconds!”

And there she was, standing beside a park bench in a spring dress, looking at the same time the way she looked when he had known her last, at the hour of her death just under a year ago, and the way she looked at her very most beautiful, the day he married her, when she was twenty-two and he was twenty-five.

It was a far deeper and sharper moment of first love than the first first moment of first love, because now, not only was he falling in love, but he was falling in love with someone he loved; and while the first time, he also believed he’d be with her forever, he was too young to consider what forever meant.

Now here he was, truly, on the first day of forever.

He kissed her for an eternity, which was fine, because heaven had eternities to burn. Then he kissed her for another.

“It wouldn’t have been heaven without you.”

He took her hand in his, and they strolled out of the park together.

“Oh, and you gotta remind me,” said Tim as they walked. “One of these days I have to visit my grandma. Remind me, okay?”

“Of course!” said Lynn. “I would love to meet her.”

But first, they looked up their friends, the ones they had shared for the main length of their life together. They brought to each house a bottle of wine that never emptied, and they visited everyone for hours, laughing late into the night, reminiscing and gossiping about who had died and who hadn’t. Then they’d wake up early the next morning, make coffee and French toast, and talk about the friends they had visited and whether or not heaven had changed them.

Next they went to see Tim’s parents, who were doing very well and were very happy to see both of them.

“Have you visited Nana yet?” asked his parents.

Not yet, said Tim, but soon.

Next, they visited Lynn’s mother.

“You know your father’s here,” Lynn’s mother told Lynn. Lynn was surprised to hear this. “It would be the right thing to visit him.”

Tim had never met Lynn’s father, but he had heard all about their relationship. Her father abandoned her family when she was thirteen and only saw her once more, when he showed up unannounced at her high school graduation and tried to reconcile, ruining the day for her. She had retaliated by rebuffing him publicly and rudely. She did not want to see him at all, but she could tell it was the right thing to do, and heaven was the kind of place that made you want to do the right thing.

“We’ll go together,” said Tim. “It’ll be fine.”

Lynn’s father opened the door to his oversized condominium with a huge grin. Of course he would have a condominium in heaven.

“Remember at your high school graduation?” he said. “When you told me to go to hell?”

He smiled like he had been looking forward to saying that line for a long time.

“What a jerk,” she said after they left. “Why did they let him in?”

“He must have changed,” said Tim.

“And then changed back?”

“Maybe,” said Tim. “Who knows how things work here?”

“Well, maybe this is better, because I get to feel mercy, or something. Or close that chapter. Or whatever. I did it. You know?”

“That’s a good attitude,” said Tim. “And it was the right thing to do. Now you can enjoy heaven with a clear conscience.”

The next day, Tim called Nana.

“Hello?”

“Nana?”

“Who’s this?”

“Nana! It’s Tim!”

“Tim who?”

“Tim Donahue!”

“Eliza’s husband? Oh.” She sounded unhappy. “Hi.”

“No, Tim Junior. Eliza’s son. Timmy! Your grandson!”

“Timmy! Oh, goodness—Timmy, you died? You’re just a little boy!”

“No, Nana, I’m all grown up! I’m in my seventies now. Was.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I still pictured you as a little boy! How did everything wind up?”

“Well . . . there’s a lot to cover, Nana! We want to come visit you. I have a wife now—I want you to meet her!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful! Wonderful. It will be so wonderful to see you both!”

“When’s good?” said Tim.

“When? Oh. Hm.” Nana paused. “I have a bunch of stuff next week. I’m seeing some friends, and there’s a couple concerts I want to see . . . How about next weekend? The weekend after this coming weekend, I mean.”

“We would love that. How about Sunday, for dinner? Like old times?”

“Huh?”

“Like the Sunday dinners you used to make us, when we were kids.”

“Oh. Sure, we could do that. Or we could order in. Lot of options. Let’s decide closer to then, okay?”

“Okay, Nana. I love you. I’m so happy I’m going to get to see you!”

“Me, too. I love you, too. See you next Sunday. But not this one—the next one. Bye now.”

“Nana sounded odd,” Tim said after he hung up. “Or something.”

“Maybe she’s upset that you didn’t get in touch with her before?”

“I don’t know,” said Tim. “It’s hard to tell that stuff over the phone. And also, there’s a lot to do here, you know? I hadn’t seen you, I hadn’t explored heaven—it’s not like anyone’s going anywhere . . .”

“It’ll all be better on Sunday,” said Lynn. “When we see her.”

“You’re right,” Tim agreed.

On Sunday, Tim called to confirm.

“Nana! It’s Tim. Just confirming we’ll see you tonight? I’m bringing my wife, Lynn.”

“Who?”

“Lynn, my wife. You’re going to love her.”

“Who’s this?”

“Tim, your grandson. Timmy.”

“Timmy! Oh, Tim, gosh, tonight? I’m so sorry, tonight won’t work. Can we do next weekend?”

“Sure,” said Tim. “I guess.”

“Let me look here. . . . There’s something I have to be at on Saturday. And then I’m actually checking out some shows next week—actually, is two weeks okay? A week from next Friday? Can you pencil that in?”

“Sure,” said Tim.

“Perfect. I’ll see you next Friday! A week from, I mean.”

“Okay, Nana. I love you.”

“I love you, too!”

A week from Friday, Tim and Lynn showed up at the door of Nana’s house. On the door there was a note:

Tim: Tried to call you last minute but no one picked up. So sorry but there’s a concert I just had to see with some friends. Won’t be back till very late. So sorry. Must reschedule. Talk soon. I love you! Nana

Tim turned to Lynn.

“Am I crazy to take this a little personally, at this point?”

“This is weird,” Lynn agreed.

“A concert? Again?”

“Weren’t you two close?”

“I thought so. Maybe you’re right—maybe she is mad that I didn’t contact her before.”

“But then why wouldn’t she just say it?”

“I don’t know. I guess she would have.”

“Well, what should we do tonight?” asked Lynn, trying on a smile and finding it fit perfectly. “We’re all dressed up, it’s a Friday night in heaven . . .”

“Yeah. We can go out ourselves, can’t we?”

“Want to check out one of those concerts?”

“Sure!” said Tim. “Why should Nana have all the fun?”

Tim and Lynn walked through the streets of heaven at sunset. A breeze blew through the pink-and-purple air. Dogs barked, birds sang. Children with old souls finally laughed lightly. Horses, bicycles, and vintage convertible cars shared the wide streets.

As Tim and Lynn got closer to the center of town, they started walking past posters:

tonight! bo diddley! free!

tonight! bing crosby! free!

tonight! nikolai rimsky-korsakov! free!

“Look at this!” said Lynn. “No wonder your nana’s out at concerts every night.”

“Ritchie Valens!”

“The Big Bopper!”

“Curtis Mayfield!”

“Sid Vicious?!”

“Debussy!”

“Is this all really free?” asked Lynn.

“Roy Orbison!” Tim pointed to a sign. “Want to check this one out?”

It was transcendent: a private concert and an arena show at the same time. None of the things that had kept them away from live-music events before had made it into heaven. No sweat or aggression in their row. No songs from the new album that the musician was overly sincere about now but would be embarrassed by in a few years. No confusion or pressure as to whether they should sit or stand or dance or put their hands in the air. The sound was impeccable. So was the stage design. They could eat, drink, smoke, make out. They had front-row seats. There were no crowds. They were literally the only people there.

After a few hits, but still at the height of the show, Tim turned to Lynn with an indulgent idea.

“Wanna just check out the next one?” he said.

“Why not?”

They went to the stadium next door. It was also a private concert in a giant arena. Just as they walked in, John Denver launched into a blasting rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” When he finished, Tim and Lynn gave a standing ovation.

“Hello, Heaven!”

“This is amazing,” remarked Tim.

“I know! It’s almost even too perfect,” said Lynn. “Like, in a way, I would like it if there were a few people here, a little energy, you know?”

“That could be the motto for heaven,” said Tim. “ ‘Almost too perfect.’ ”

They snuck out to see the next show.

As they kept walking toward the center of the music and arts district, the streets became more and more crowded. They started seeing more of all types of people, occasionally even celebrities. For example, Ricardo Montalban. He was an actor they both recognized from the television show Fantasy Island, but he wasn’t being mobbed at all. He almost looked like he wished he would be, or that at least someone would approach him to ask him a question or to pose for a picture. Tim wondered why no one was going up to talk to him and then, to try to figure it out, asked himself the same question—why wasn’t he approaching Ricardo Montalban?

Probably because there were more interesting things in heaven than Ricardo Montalban.

It must be hard being Ricardo Montalban in heaven, thought Tim.

As they got within a half mile of the center of the district, Tim and Lynn finally realized why the concerts had been so empty before.

“Look,” whispered Lynn. “Look.”

elvis presley! live! free!

wolfgang amadeus mozart! live! free!

l. v. beethoven! live! free!

Tim and Lynn stared in awe as people poured by the millions into stadiums bigger than they could have imagined to see the greatest artists not only of their generation but of their entire generation’s consciousness.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined up to see Miles Davis; millions to see Tupac Shakur; billions to see Michael Jackson.

“We can see anyone,” remarked Tim to Lynn. “We can see anyone, of all time.”

It was almost too much to comprehend. It was a good thing they were already used to love, or they might have fainted from the size of the feeling.

They decided on Frank Sinatra, a favorite of both of theirs, and headed into his concert.

It couldn’t have been any more of a thrill. Sinatra was at the top of his game. He opened with “The Best Is Yet to Come,” and a crowd of seven hundred million chanted along. Then a song they had never heard before—“a new one,” Sinatra warned, making everyone nervous—but it was as good as one of the classics, and they had heard it first. Then “My Way.” Then “Fly Me to the Moon.” Then “New York, New York.” Then “One for My Baby.”

“Now, here are a few songs whose artists haven’t made their way to heaven yet,” intoned Sinatra in the same soothing, ever-knowing voice he’d had in life, made even more poignant here, as he stroked the quaintly unnecessary cord of his microphone. “I hope they won’t mind me giving you a little preview, keeping the songs warm for them.” And then Tim and Lynn took in the soul-expanding sight of Frank Sinatra covering the hits of Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, Coldplay, and Beyoncé. Heaven cared not for the limits of era.

After five hours and nineteen encores full of more of his own hits, the concert finally drew to a close. Tim kissed Lynn, and she kissed him back. They felt like they were in heaven. They were, of course; but they felt like it, too.

Still, even after all that, they didn’t want the show to end, and when they looked down, they realized what was hanging around their necks: backstage passes, all access, VIP.

“Of course,” said Lynn. “Of course we have these.”

They went backstage. They showed the badges tentatively to the first person they saw in a uniform, who nodded respectfully and walked them to a wide, clean corridor under the stadium. It was a billion-seat stadium, so the hallway was long, but along the way, not a single person second-guessed their right to be there. Tim and Lynn were escorted along the hallway until they were finally left by themselves outside a single, unmarked door.

Tim and Lynn looked at each other.

“Could it be this easy?” asked Lynn.

“It’s heaven,” Tim said. “No need to guard the door.”

Tim knocked, but heard nothing.

He knocked again, harder, and heard nothing.

He tried the knob of the door and found it was unlocked—of course—and swung open easily. And there, leaning casually against a closet door with his eyes half-closed, was Frank Sinatra. And there, on the floor on her knees, was Nana, blowing Frank Sinatra.

“You got to understand something, Timmy,” said Nana, glowing and gorgeous and angry and mysterious as she closed her robe with one hand and the door to Sinatra’s dressing room behind her with the other. “And it’s lovely to meet you . . .?”

“Lynn.”

“Lynn. Tim, Lynn, I’m so happy for you both. And I love you, Timmy, so much. But you have to understand. When I met you, everybody was dead. My husband; two of my kids; my parents, of course; my sister; all of my friends—not everybody, but, yeah, kind of everybody, you know? And I was part dead from it. I didn’t know I was at the time. And believe me—I was so happy and grateful for the love I did have in my life, in the form of you and your little sister, whose name escapes me at the moment. Danielle! That was her name, wasn’t it? My, what a beauty.” Nana smiled at the memory. “She was my . . . I loved you all equally, all so much. That love was real. And it still is. And Lynn, welcome to the family.” She hugged Tim again and kissed Lynn on the cheek. “Oh, isn’t it exciting? Everyone’s here. There’s so much going on!”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 32 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(15)

4 Star

(6)

3 Star

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2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    Read it!!!

    Star and major contributor of The Office. Expect witty, comedic,! and sometimes tender stories. A good, fun collection of short stories filled with simple life lessons that everyone should heed, but few ever do. You're the man, BJ

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 21, 2014

    This is a wonderfully humorous collection of thoughts and storie

    This is a wonderfully humorous collection of thoughts and stories, most of which involve unusual twists and viewpoints.  For that reason, it is difficult to provide a descriptive review without including spoilers.  It would be like reviewing O’Henry without revealing his surprise endings.  One cannot do justice to the work with that approach.



    Now, this is not O’Henry.  The stories are somewhat less serious and the characters are less empathetic.  But that is not necessarily bad.  These stories and characters are from our present age.  The people are social networkers who have a more holistic worldview, and they can laugh about themselves with the author and reader alike.




    And I laughed.  For this is a very funny and enjoyable book to read.  Even the lesser stories, and some can be no more than a few well written lines, are thought provoking in a light hearted way.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2014

    Moderately entertaining

    I was familiar with BJ Novak's work as a TV writer and expected more from him. Some stories, Missed Connections and Heaven, were entertaining but the majority fell flat.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2014

    I wanted to like it...

    ...but I didn't. I was hoping for more of the humor that The Office was known for, but instead, I got profanity and vulgarity...and a bit too much of the word "like" for my taste. Disappointing, I am sorry to say.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 28, 2014

    Zero.....straining to be funny.....and failing!

    Absolutely lame!...I don't recommend.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2014

    Great read

    Loved this book

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2014

    Hated it! Did the audio version. B.J. Novak is trying to "a

    Hated it! Did the audio version. B.J. Novak is trying to "act" like he is an intellectual and it does not work. Too much profanity just for the sake of it and he was trying to be super creative and it came off as boring and ridiculous. I think he was trying for shock value maybe? Just one person's opinion. I had such high hopes. Also, his voice really gets on your nerves after 9 hours. He should have hired a professional to do the reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2014

    I read this so quickly! So many of the stories take a turn you d

    I read this so quickly! So many of the stories take a turn you don't expect. BJ's such a talented writer, and it's engaging and interesting to hear his various voices and points of views. DEFINITELY recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2014

    Terrible stories

    This is one of the worst collection of storied I've read. Most of them made no sense. I couldn't finish it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 4, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    One of the best book of short stories released in the past few y

    One of the best book of short stories released in the past few years. I looked forward to every story and it never disappointed. This is a must read for anyone, the book delivers life lessons and advice. I was amazed by this book. Everyone must read.  

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    Fun and Fast read!

    Had to get it as soon as I found out about this book.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 14, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Self-consciously clever, with little substance.

    Self-consciously clever, with little substance.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2014

    Great Read!

    I thought this book was fabulous! It was funny, witty, thought provoking and a little dark. The only thing that kept me from giving a five star rating was that I just didn't enjoy a handful of the stories.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2014

    This book is terrible! Could not even finish it.....It was a was

    This book is terrible! Could not even finish it.....It was a waste of money! Market scam, do not buy it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    Really enjoyed this

    It's difficult to review books (and movies, for that matter) because everybody likes different things.
    But I was familiar with this author because of his work on "The Office." Personally I found it
    very funny. In fact, laugh-out-loud funny in places. I had read this after getting it from the
    library & ordered one from B&N and had it sent to my son. He, also enjoyed it very much. We
    both have a slightly skewed sense of humor, which probably also contributed to our enjoy-
    ment.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2014

    Funny stories.

    Not great humor, but enough to keep one interested and giggling.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2014

    A greet book which I purchased from B&Ns crappy company only because I wanted to buy this with the author's initials included. Mitchell Klipper and the other senior sleazing, dishonest, fraudulent peaces of crap should be avoided at all colds!!

    I real sorry for those who work in the stores!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2014

    Absolutely fantastic! 

    Absolutely fantastic! 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2014

    Very enjoyable Very enjoable

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book and bought a second copy to share with a friend. Highly recommend.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    great

    great

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews

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