Bringing Millennial Humour to Literature: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing

‘If you love something, let it go.

If you don’t love something, definitely let it go.

Basically, just drop everything, who cares.’

(“If You Love Something,” from One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories)

Above is one of B.J. Novak’s many short— emphasis on short— stories from his best-selling collection. Novak is famous for his role as “Ryan” in NBC’s American adaptation of The Office, a sitcom for which he was also a writer. In 2014, he entered the world of literature with the Penguin Random House publication of his short story collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, and his children’s book, The Book with No Pictures.

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 B.J. Novak (Right) pictured with Steve Carrell (Left) in the first season of The Office

Possibly thanks to Novak’s past of writing for The Office, his stories do not take themselves too seriously. Focusing on popular culture in the 21st Century, the stories speak to Novak’s millennial audience, with titles such as “The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate.”

Many of the stories in his collection do not follow a “standard” sequence of events. About half of them have no plot at all, and are simply a few lines of deadpan humour, reading more like tweets than literature. Others are completely nonsensical— take, for example, “Kate Moss,” a story in which a 16-year old who loves British model Kate Moss is told (by Moss herself) that if he stares at a photo of Kate Moss for four hours each day, he will become Kate Moss. Weird, I know.

Whilst it is typically difficult for actors to branch into literature (think James Franco’s many unsuccessful books), One More Thing was highly popular. Novak’s collection was listed as one of Time’s 15 Best Books of 2014, and it was featured on both Oprah and Martha Stewart’s “Summer Reading Lists.” Perhaps this success is due to Novak’s obscure sense of humour, reflecting a niche audience of millennials. His shocking, often cynical jokes make the book entertaining for young adults, as dark humour is becoming an increasingly popular form of comedy amongst them. His success may also be down to the abruptness of each story aimed at a young audience accustomed to receiving information fast. The jokes, sharing ‘literary DNA’ with Woody Allen’s Without Feathers and Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes, resonate with millennials, expressing a ‘deep awareness of exactly what’s weird about our present cultural moment.’

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Novak’s announcement of his short story collection, via his instagram

In an interview with The New York Times, Novak describes One More Thing by saying: “Imagine if George Saunders wasn’t a genius, and someone were trying to write an entertaining combination of darkness and light, and fell short of the goal but tried entertainingly hard.” Contrary to his belief, Novak has not fallen short of his goal. The mixture of dark subject matter (see the shocking conclusion to “One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie”) and childlike silliness within each short story interact to embody millennial humour in the 21st Century.

Haley Horton

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