Wikipedia lists this book as a collection of 22 stories, but that would be in correct, there are actually 65 in the collection. Some of them are very short tableaux consisting of just a few sentences, while the longest are still well within the short story range. The collection is generally funny, most of the stories are meant to be humorous, heavy use of the twist ending, with one story being very funny throughout and then very heavy at the very end.
All I knew about B.J. Novak was from one story I had read of his in the New Yorker, which was collected in this book, called “The Man Who Invented the Calendar.” Not being very connected with the modern world I was unaware that he was in the primary cast of the office. Don’t let his acting fool you though, he is an excellent writer. Yes he might be writing humor, but it is witty and sophisticated and layered, he is able to accomplished in just a handful of words what most writers attempt to do throughout their entire lives, and often fail. He is a welcome new voice in the world of the short story, and I hope he writes more.
There are far too many stories here to go through one by one. But some of the really good ones that should definitely be checked out are: Dark Mater, The Something by John Grisham, The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela, The Man Who Invented the Calendar, A Good Problem to Have, One of These Days We Have to Do Something About Willie, The World’s Biggest Rip-Off, and Constructive Criticism. Though the rest are quite good to, there aren’t really any that fall into the category of “so stupid you might as well skip them” and the ones that might come close are only a sentence or a paragraph long so you might as well read them anyways.
My favorite story in the collection, skipped in the list above, is “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogleberg” which is about an old man that is now in heaven, who is trying to visit his grandmother who he hasn’t seen since he was 9. This is a funny story, however not quite as funny as some of the other pieces, but what it might lack in humor, it makes up for in a profound highly enlightened statement about life, D-, and family. A statement that is as unique as it is brilliant. I’d like to say more and explain my position, but unfortunately doing that would ruin the story for another potential reader. So if you read nothing else in the book, read this story.
A note on the audio. The majority of the book is read by the author, sometimes with help of various others. He does a good job, he’s not the best reader I’ve come across, but he’s pretty good. There is only one place where his reading ability more or less fails, and that is “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela.” (quick side note: the story is a little less offensive then you might think… a little) there are a lot of references to other comedians in the story, the story would have been put together much better if he had been able to get those comedians to do their own voices for that particular story, or at least got a good voice actor that could sound like Jeff Dunam, Gilbert Godfrey, Jeff Ross, Etc.
Again, just to wrap this up, this is a masterpiece story collection, and one of the best books I’ve read all year.