Hey Librarians, Call Me

July 1, 2014

On Tuesday, comedian, actor, director, and author B. J. Novak offered some entertainment at the Closing Session of the 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. In addition to having the “honor of addressing an audience of more than 1,000 librarians in Las Vegas,” Novak quipped that it was a “specific sexual fantasy.” He put up a photo of himself and a phone number on the big screen with the caption, “Hey librarians, call me.”

Novak said the first thing he ever wanted to be was a librarian, because the library in his school was a place where “no one told you where your mind was supposed to be.” He loved that everything was “cataloged and ready to go.” Now, as a writer of adult and children’s books, he described the process he used to create books that he hoped would be useful contributions to everyone’s libraries.

After spending several years as a stand-up comedian and a writer and actor on NBC’s The Office, Novak said he needed something that was entirely in his own voice and with more depth. So he began developing short stories that were “all comedic, but balanced with other elements.” For what became One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories (Knopf, February 2014), Novak “workshopped” each story at his comedy programs by “reading the stories to audiences and editing them, pen in hand, depending on the laughs.” Anything that wasn’t sufficiently entertaining was dropped from the finished product.

For his first children’s book, The Book with No Pictures (Dial, forthcoming), Novak said he wanted to create a book that adults could read to children with amusing and perhaps embarrassing results for the reader.

Noting that the rule of reading out loud is that whoever is reading must say the actual words that are in the book, he decided to turn that rule on its head. Again, he workshopped his manuscript by reading it to his friends’ children and watching other parents read it to their kids and observing their reactions. He played a clip of himself reading The Book with No Pictures to a roomful of schoolchildren. The reactions were riotous when he came to read “blork” and “blurfff,” a song that goes “glug glug glug, my face is a bug,” and “My best friend in the world is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt.”

Novak said his intent was to show that the written word alone can make the world an exciting and fun place for kids and that maybe other text-only books could offer them joy and empowerment. He finished by saying it would be a “huge honor to have the book in your libraries.”


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