‘The Book With No Pictures’ by the Writer with No Brains, aka my brother
Real talk: The most embarrassing moment of my life was in fifth grade. A drug education counselor came to our class for “an honest, open conversation” and asked if any of us had any personal history with addiction. I raised my hand and said that I was addicted to Oxy, because I had heard people on TV say they were addicted to “Oxy” without knowing they meant Oxycontin, and I used Oxy face wipes every night for my acne because that’s what my Mom bought me even though Katy Perry, Adam Levine, and everyone else cool seems to use Proactiv (I legitimately think that if a brand is too “cool” my parents don’t trust it). Anyway, the drug counselor was legally obligated to call my parents, and the class became divided into people who thought I was a complete addict and people who thought I was a complete idiot. “At least your skin looks better,” said my best friend at the time, which was so nice by comparison to everything else that happened that day that it almost made me cry with gratitude.
That was the most embarrassing moment of my life. The second most embarrassing moment of my life is an infinity-way tie between every time someone brings up my oldest brother. “Oh, your brother is on The Office? Can he introduce me to John Krasinski LOL?” “Oh, your brother is in that movie about Disney? Can he get me into Disneyworld LOL”
UM PLEASE STOP MENTIONING THIS PERSON WHO HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME AND CAN’T DO YOU ANY FAVORS BECAUSE I DON’T TALK TO HIM UNLESS IT’S THANKSGIVING.
Oh and the other most embarrassing moment (I guess I have a lot) was when a magazine arrived at our house with Tavi Gevinson on the cover looking amazing and my Mom said “Oh, Ke, look at this, have you heard of this girl Tavi? She seems very impressive.” YES MOM I’VE ONLY HAD PANIC ATTACKS ONCE A MONTH SINCE AGE TWELVE ABOUT HOW I COULD NEVER ACCOMPLISH IN MY ENTIRE LIFE AS MUCH AS SHE HAS BY AGE 16, SO GLAD TO SEE YOU’RE A FAN TOO.
Okay, I had a lot more to say than I thought—writing really is therapeutic I guess. So without further ado, the interview I promised my college counselor I would do: “The Book With No Pictures by The Writer With No Brains, aka my brother: an interview with B.J. Novak by Keough Grace Novak” (@Sofifii said I could title this whatever I wanted.)
Keough Novak: Congratulations! You’ve done it.
B.J. Novak: Tell me what I’ve done, before I get excited.
You have accomplished the single stupidest accomplishment in the entire history of publishing. You wrote a book with no pictures for little kids who everyone knows only like books with pictures.
I had a feeling you were going to say something like that.
I say this from the bottom of my heart: I wish I had the emojis to express how dumb I think this book sounds.
Generally, in an interview, the interviewer is supposed to ask questions.
Okay, thanks for the lesson, Professor. What is the typical reaction of a kid when you read them ‘The Book With No Pictures’?
I’m happy to say that they always laugh! It’s a funny book.
Are you sure they’re not laughing at you?
Well, in a way, they are! The premise of the book is that the grownup has to read every word the book says, no matter how ridiculous. So the reader has to say very silly things, and the reader becomes part of the joke.
Are you sure it’s not polite laughter?
Yes. Kids don’t do polite laughter.
Real talk, though: When a little kid sees a book called ‘The Book With No Pictures’ with a plain white cover, don’t they think it looks boring?
Actually, I’m happy to say that the first impression it makes on even the littlest kids has been very positive. Very young kids who see it often have a sense of intrigue about it, like they know it can’t possibly be as simple as it says it is. . . What’s in there? The idea seems mischievous to them – a book with no pictures? – and of course the book ends up being a little mischievous, too.
Do you have to be a professional comedian or a good actor to read the book in a funny way?
I’m glad you asked. You don’t have to be an actor or a comedian at all. You don’t even have to be particularly expressive, if that’s not your style. The fun part of this is that pretty much everyone is funny reading it. Because the humor of the book is in making the adult say silly things, and then react to them and say things like “I didn’t want to say that,” just reading it in a straightforward way can be delightful to a kid. Kids really like when someone they know reads the book to them. It’s an excuse to be a little silly together, and it’s a script for a fun experience between the person reading and the person being read to.
But can you be a comedian or a good actor and read ‘The Book With No Pictures’?
Because you are not those things.
Well played, Keough. It took a lot of patience and follow-through to set me up like that.
Thank you. People underestimate me sometimes.
I remember last year at Thanksgiving when you were testing a handmade version of the book on cousin Miles.
Yes. He was seven and he called me “Booboobutt” for the rest of the week—and I knew I was on to something.
Is this a real book now? Because back then, it was just something you had paper-clipped and glued together. It didn’t look very professional, IMHO.
That’s just how I test things—I mock them up and show them to people for feedback. So that’s what I was doing at Thanksgiving last year. It’s definitely a real book now. Penguin is the publisher. You can get it online or in bookstores or even some toy stores. It’s especially cool to buy it in a bookstore, if possible, because it’s important for kids to see the wonder of a physical bookstore, and even if you can’t bring the kid to the bookstore, it’s good to support those bookstores. James Patterson is wonderfully articulate on this subject.
The book has gotten good reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, The Atlantic, Booklist, and other places. Are you worried you’ll go to jail for hacking into their websites?
The reviews are real and I am lucky to have them.
But the reviews aren’t all good. People have also been calling your writing “stupid,” “dumb,” “the rantings of a bozo.”
I think that’s mostly you.
It’s possible. Social media is such an echo chamber.
Yes, I know.
Thanks for this interview, Ben. I’m really happy for you. You’ve finally found a community to connect with at your own maturity level.
“The Book With No Pictures” is available now in bookstores everywhere and at thebookwithnopictures.com.