BJ Novak: Is he the one who first said, “That’s What She Said”?

Snap 2014-05-04 at 11.58.31No. Apparently, either Alfred Hitchcock or Al Gore said it. And we thought Michael Scott of “The Office” said it! Which might have meant that B.J. Novak wrote it, because he was one of the writers on “The Office” (which Jennifer was obsessed with). B.J. Novak has recently written his first book, One More Thing: Stories and the Other Stories. In addition to his “Office” PRODUCING/WRITING/ACTING gig and his debut book-writing, he’s also a movie star (Saving Mr. Banks and Inglorious Basterds). Jennifer wrote this intro, which is why it sounds a little too glowing. Does Lara flare up too? Or, maybe, the kid can’t really write at all. Maybe we secretly think he sucks since he didn’t even come up with “that’s what she said.” Maybe.

Lara: Short story collections often run hot and cold for me. The ones I have come across are highly literary, and you need an advanced lit degree to understand and, therefore, appreciate. I often think short story collections are too cool for their own good and most people don’t really get them but say they do because it’s cool to “get” them. Do you know what I mean?

Well, I’m going to tell you that this collection of stories is for the person who says he or she doesn’t get them (and doesn’t really get them). These kinds of people (of which I am proud to be among them) will love this collection. Oh, you also have to have a good sense of humor and appreciate smartly written comedy.

Did any of that make sense?

Jennifer: Um, Lara, this makes sense BUT YOU’RE WRONG. And this must be why we are together here, to offer diversity. Short story collections are often “highly literary” (what the hell?) and they often are not. Some are too cool for their own good; some are not. Some people “get them”; some do not.

But if you want to play that game—and apparently you do—I need to say this: this book is highly literary and I’ll hazard to guess that many won’t get it. The book is, if anything, too smart. I like that. But, seriously, his braininess is written all over it. This book is not for everyone, no: IT’S FOR MY SMART, LITERARY FRIENDS.

By the way, Lara, you’re forcing me to self-promote—despite our tacit agreement about me not using Snotty Literati as a vehicle for self-promotion—I also wrote a book of short stories, and it is also is FOR MY SMART, LITERARY FRIENDS. The Freak Chronicles, friends.

Okay, Lara, get over it. Move on. I loved this book.

Lara: Wait. It sounds like we are at odds, and I don’t think we are. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and think many others will. I also think that while you need to appreciate really smart, clever humor to enjoy this one, people who might normally dismiss short stories should give this a try.

And this is the last Snotty column you can use to promote your own books.

Jennifer: Deal. We’re not at odds, okay? I know you sorta want to save this till later, but I think I need to say it. Novak reminded me, ever so slightly, of David Foster Wallace—in his clever, incisive talk. But here you go, Lara: he’s more accessible than DFW.

As I mentioned, I did adore this book. There are so many stories in here (over sixty in a relatively short book of about 270 pages) that I originally suspected it would be a collection of little annoying comedy sketches rather than a real short story collection. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. There is an admixture of miniscule comedy sketches (it’s true) and longer short stories, which included some of my favorites: “Sophia,” “Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy),” “One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie,” and “J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote.” While there is the snippet of clever talk, there is also the emotional depth (I love “I Never Want to Walk on the Moon” and the “Willie” one) and there is attention to language. In other words, B.J. Novak can write:

“For the adoration due a great poet, he made a point of writing his articles longhand on legal pads in fashionable cafes, always looking like a brilliant, beautiful mess, a priceless piece of set decoration for any independently owned coffee shop: the poet completely lost in his work, pausing only to explain—often, and at length, depending on the questioner—what it was he was working on.” (“J.C. Audetat”)

Lara: So many of the stories are great. One of my favorites, “Julie and the Warlord,” is about a girl named Julie who meets a guy through online dating. While discussing what each of them do, she misses part of what he says:

“Hmmmmmmmmmm? All I heard was ‘lord’.”


“Ooh! Okay, this is fun. Are you a … a landlord? Because I do not have the best history getting along with landlords. My first apartment—”

“I’m not a landlord.”

“Are you … a … drug lord?” Julie said, stroke-poking the side of his face with her finger. “’Cause that could be a problem.”


“You’re not… the Lord, are you? Because I haven’t gone to temple since my Bat Mitzvah. Ha, don’t tell my grandma!”

The exchange between Julie and the warlord is nothing short of hilarious and B.J. gives the reader a provocative question. I literally laughed. Out. Loud.

Jennifer: This is a laugh-out-loud book. And let me tell you: I rarely laugh out loud so consistently with one book. Usually, I chuckle here, giggle there, underline something funny. But this book made me laugh a lot. In a pretty heady, sharp-witted, nimble way. I usually try to force one book on my nonfiction-y, scientific husband once every few years—and I’m going to push this on him.

Here’s just one tiny taste (pun, intended) of the humor from “Kindness Among Cakes”:

CHILD: “Why does carrot cake have the best icing?”
MOTHER: “Because it needs the best icing.”

That’s the whole story. Are we allowed to quote the whole story? I did. I quoted the whole story.

Lara: That was one of my favorites! And I love carrot cake! Okay, I am going to quote one entire story too, “If You Love Something”:

If you love something, let it go.
If you don’t love something, definitely let it go.
Basically, just drop everything, who cares.

I think that’s the adult version of that damn Frozen song. Loved it.

Jennifer: So true, Lara.

Lara: But there are touching moments too. Like in “Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle School Boy)”:

“Fate to me, simply means that all the billions of microscopic actions we can’t calculate lead to consequences that feel right, because they are right. They fit, they follow. We can’t see and understand all the causes behind everything, but I think it’s more magical to accept that they’re there than it is to believe that they’re not, and that something called ‘fate’ is filling all that space instead.”

Winding down, because I could go on and on, there are just a few more things I must say (that, too, is a bit of a pun—not much of one—on the book title). Novak has been compared to Woody Allen. I kinda see it, but not entirely. Why? He’s a funny Jewish guy? So is Jerry Seinfeld. Novak and Allen share a certain depth, but it’s pretty different. I think Novak seems a little more part of that snarky, young, academic, age-of-irony world while Allen is, well, Allen.

Novak captures, like Allen however, some universals of human nature.

On the writer, he writes,

“He wanted his words to be everywhere. He wanted them in airports, and he wanted them stolen by teenagers, and he wanted them in bookstores that also sold things.”

On youth, he says,

“Being young was her thing, and she was the best at it. But every year, more and more girls came out of nowhere and tried to steal her thing.”

Then, also note how Novak incorporates real people into his stories, ranging from Nelson Mandela to Stephen King. He brings in many, many references from contemporary life, and offers a poignant kicker:

“Indeed, most human beings in the developed world already carry a device that can instantaneously access essentially all of the recorded information in history, and the average price of such devices recently hit an all-time low (see Regular News). Nobody knows what happens after death (see Opinions).”

: Well, if you get one more thing, and B.J. gets one more thing, then I get one more thing. I really like reading writers of my own generation. It doesn’t matter that I am older than B.J. I think we could hang. He’s very contemporary, very fresh and witty, with a nice amount of throwback. One of my favorite stories was “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle,” which starts off as the original Donald J. Sobel books would open:

It was a quiet Sunday. Wikipedia Brown was sipping lemonade with his friend Sally, when all of a sudden their classmate Joey ran in, out of breath.

“Help!” said Joey. “Someone stole my bike! I left it outside the library this morning. Who stole it?”

Then Wikipedia expounds on all these unnecessary facts when Sally has to get him back on track:

“Wait! Let’s not get distracted,” said Sally. “Every time we talk to Wikipedia Brown, we get distracted. We spend hours and hours with him, and always forget what were supposed to investigate in the first place.”

“Yes, good point,” said Joey. “We have to find my bike. Sally, do you have any ideas?”

“Sally is a bad detective and a well-known slut,” said Wikipedia Brown. “Citation needed.”

Isn’t that great? I mean it’s really clever. How does he come up with this stuff?

Jennifer: He has a definite eye for the unique. His perspective is different. I’m thinking prodigy, genius crap.

Lara: If I had one complaint or problem with this collection, it’s that B.J. might be a little too clever for his own good. I kind of wish I didn’t read it all at once across a couple of days. I would definitely recommend reading it, but read something else in between, or take some breaks. It can start to feel like you are at the party talking to the guy who’s trying to get a laugh every time he opens his mouth. This isn’t a horrible thing—who doesn’t like laughing?—it can just get to be a bit much.

Jennifer: I’ll agree with you, even though I really don’t want to admit to weakness in the book. I think the persistent clever talk could get wearisome. I didn’t necessarily find it so, though I can see how someone might feel that way. Too much of a good thing.

But. I loved the book. I hope he writes more.

Lara: Yeah, he’s a good one. He keeps you coming back for more.

Jennifer: That’s what she said.

Next Month

Snotty Literati reviews a book that most of Lara’s friend’s have read, but haven’t mentioned anything about, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. They may be keeping quiet, but we sure as hell won’t.

Until then, happy reading!


Can’t get enough of Snotty Literati? Follow us on Facebook!

Want to read more from Jennifer? Check her out at 

Want to see what Lara is up to? Go to