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October 2014

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Choose Your Own Autobiography

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars (two for the book and one for the premise)

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As we made our way to the gate before a two-hour flight home last night, we spotted this book. I knew it had come out recently, and realized that the format (ostensibly a ‘choose your own adventure’-style autobiography) would probably lend itself better to a physical book. I picked it up and read it continuously, from waiting in line to board the plane until we caught a shuttle to our car back home. I read it on the elliptical this morning, and finished up the last ten of the nearly 300 pages after dinner tonight.

Now, despite his start as Doogie Houser, M.D., I mostly associate Mr. Harris with Barney Stinson, his character on my favorite sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. As my husband can attest, I will re-watch the shit out of that show on Netflix Streaming, and when I’m felling sad I’ll seek out the blooper reels online for a guaranteed laugh. I had high hopes for this book, but I’m a bit disappointed. It’s not the best comedic memoir I’ve read, nor is it even one of my favorites. (And if you check out my CBR5 reviews, you’ll know that I read a LOT of comedic memoirs, so I do have a frame of reference).

The trick he chooses – writing the entire book in the second person, turning the reader (“you”) into “Neil Patrick Harris” – is a fun one. It does allow for some unexpected moments, although I must admit I didn’t actually choose any adventures; I just read the book straight through, and it worked just fine. Mr. Harris is a national treasure, so I feel a bit odd being critical of the book, but aside from the occasional clever bits, I don’t actually feel like I got much out of reading the book. I mean, I enjoyed learning about his early career, and his experiences dating, and the choices he’s made in life, but the second person convention sort of allows Mr. Harris to write his story as a removed observer, preventing any sort of real connection between the author and the reader.

The book is also obviously going to be filled with enough dropped names to sink a ship, and that makes sense. That’s been his crowd since he was sixteen. But there’s something a bit off-putting about a chapter going on and on about gosh golly gee how cool is it to hang out with Elton John in Greece? I don’t think Mr. Harris is insincere, or bragging, there’s just something a little strange about how it’s presented. I also have some issues with the device he uses of having some folks pen letters to him to include in the book, that basically just go on and on about how great he is. I’m assuming they are real letters; they aren’t gushing enough to be satirical, they’re just sort of, I don’t know, really self-indulgent. And obviously any memoir is going to be self-indulgent. I don’t know – I’m having trouble articulating because I really want to like this book, and I really still do like Mr. Harris, and putting one’s life story essentially up for critique is impressive as hell, but at the same time … this book just wasn’t for me. I’d give it two stars, but the originality bumps it up to three for me.

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