Thursday, April 04, 2013

Reader's Diary #977- Neil Pasricha: The Book of Awesome

Neil Pasricha's The Book of Awesome began its life as the blog 1000 Awesome Things. But despite its Webby Award, I hadn't heard of it until after the book had gotten so much attention. (It was Globe and Mail's best selling nonfiction book for two years in a row, 2010 and 2011). Before reading it myself, I even sent a few copies out to nephews after discovering that it's crossed over quite successfully into the teen market. Finally I decided that I should see what the fuss was about.

The Book of Awesome is a collection of short essays on the small moments that make us appreciate life, the ones that Pasricha deems as "awesome." It's a celebration of life's moments that we sometimes take for granted. With such a positive outlook, those that know me are probably expecting me, with my cynicism, to rip it to shreds. But come on, I'm not a monster. I happen to like happy people, just not annoying people. Ridiculing Neil Parischa's collection would be akin to booing at a child's piano recital, even if he is terrible. I'm not that mean.

I didn't love the book though (come on, I still need to be true to myself). The observations were great, ones that I found myself nodding along with (example, the courtesy smile or acknowledgement when you let someone in in traffic), and ones that I agreed with without having realized that my happy moments were such universal experiences. His observations stood out to me (and apparently many others) as very Seinfeldian— which depending on your appreciation of Jerry Seinfeld's comedy, could be a good or bad thing. I was always lukewarm to his standup (though I did love the show) so when he was channeling Seinfeld, I could appreciate the writing, even if I didn't love it. Often however Pasricha drives a bit into the ground. Take for instance when he describes "high tens":
Now that’s a beautiful picture. That’s the happy dial turned to 10. That’s a good day giving birth to a great one. That’s a photo from Appendix A of The Study of The Best Things Ever.
You could choke to death on the hyperbole in this book.

And ending each observation with AWESOME! complete with caps and exclamation points, grew tiresome fast, even if the preceding observation itself was fine. It was a gimmick, akin to "You might be a redneck" only less (yes, less) funny. I think I would have enjoyed them more on the blog. Reading each observation one day at a time, I think the schtick, the trademark or whatever you want to call it, would work better. Reading the book in a few close sittings can become tiresome.

Still, despite the comedic stylings, I appreciate the observations themselves and the intent behind the project.


Eric P said...

I wouldn't like this book -- the style would drive me crazy. But I do appreciate being reminded to appreciate what I do have, just in a subtler way.

While it is a bit harder to track down, Rajiv Joseph (author of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) has a funny yet deep take on this in the play Animals Out of Paper (to my mind this is actually his best play). He has a character with a notebook writing down all his blessings. And while you think it is going in one direction (he is one of those annoying 'Up with People'-type people), it turns out that many of the blessings are mixed, to be sure. Ultimately, the man's life has had quite a bit of pain, but he has done a good job in seeing the positive aspects, even of painful situations. I'm not so good at that, and am not even sure I want to be, but it was a refreshing take on the subject.

John Mutford said...

Eric: Sounds like a play I'd be interested in. And I'm with you on the "not even sure I want to be" comment.

Melwyk said...

I agree with Eric, I couldn't read this because of the style. Plus, I have a well-known phobia of the word "Awesome".

Still, I strongly support the idea of writing down your blessings, when there don't seem to be any to speak of it is a good reminder to cherish the little things.

John Mutford said...

Melwyk: Looks like we're all agreed. Good idea, not a great execution.