Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review / Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Going into this book I knew almost nothing about Neil Patrick Harris, I just knew that I would like him. (He's bff with Kelly Ripa!) And I was right, I became a fan of him immediately. I also immediately started following him on Instagram and I mean, come on. How can you not like him after seeing this...

I don't even like Star Wars and I want to eat those kids. Also, fun fact: he goes by Neil Patrick Harris because someone else already went by Neil Harris when get got into the business. I'm going to go ahead and just refer to him by his famous nickname "NPH" throughout this review though. Just because it's fun. 

Anyways, back to the book. After my last review I was looking for something lighter. Something that would make me laugh. A "feel-good" book. But at the same time I wanted to learn something. I said it before, but as much as I love a good fiction read, I sometimes feel like I'm wasting my time with make-believe stories. It wasn't my initial idea, but I think I'm going to go ahead and only review autobiography/memoir type books here on this blog. I think it goes with my writing style/thing I have going on. (Whatever that is, lol.) I view autobiographies as being similar to "self-help" books and by now everyone knows that I am (obsessed) really into the growing process and all that and I think that after learning from our own lives and mistakes etc, the second best we can do is try to learn from others. (I suppose learning from our parents and those types are good too, but they don't usually write books about it, so we'll never know it all.) Not to mention, the kind of people who write autobiographies have usually lived a hell of a life, so there's no doubt a lot to be taken away from it. And I love to know about people. I'm just plain nosy. But back to why I chose this book in particular. I wanted to laugh. Sometimes it's good just to laugh right?

So as the title suggests, this isn't your typical book or autobiography. Which seeing as he's a brilliant entertainer, only makes sense. It's like one of those books we read when we were kids where at the end of a chapter you get 2-3 options of how the story could go, and you get to choose. For example, one chapter recalls how he released his inner child while making the Smurfs movie and how acrobatic he felt being harnessed in front of a green screen doing back flips while throwing invisible smurfs into a suitcase. And then you're left with two options:

1) To innocently hang out with your kids, turn to page 276. 
2) To-not so-innocently feel up an acrobat that one time in Berlin, turn to page 78.

You get the idea. YOU are NPH and the book is told from your point of view and you get to make all the decisions. So the book jumps from front to back, and all over until you eventually...die. (A made-up death obviously as he isn't dead.) Which I did about 20 minutes into the book actually. And then you start over. To be honest, I'm still not sure if I read every chapter because I kept running into chapters that I had read already so I would skip onto the next one and start there until eventually I decided that I had probably read them all. (Side note: would not recommend reading on an electronic reader with all the chapter jumping.) It was nice that the book was interactive with the reader and it was definitely more entertaining than a typical autobiography, but it also made it super confusing. I kept forgetting where I was. Every time I opened up the book I was like, uh was I in the front or the back? And every time I started reading again, I would be confused for a minute because it wasn't easy to remember where I left off. One minute I would be reading about 16 year old Neil and then the next minute he's 36. I read about a dozen plays he was in, and I couldn't tell you which one came first. As a reader, I decided it's kind of crucial that an autobiography go in chronological order to be able to follow/understand how point A gets to point B, and so on. I vaguely understand how and why he became an actor, and what his first projects where, but after that I have no idea in what order he did things since it was all jumbled up in my memory in the wrong order. (Also, the fake deaths, and all the joking around left me wondering a lot of the time if what I was reading was real. Sometimes it wasn't so obvious if he was kidding or not.) I'm not saying that I didn't like the book, because I did and I'll get to why, but the way the book was set up left me feeling like I didn't get all of the information. And I'm missing that "accomplished" feeling that I usually get when I finish a book. And I think it's because there wasn't a specific beginning, middle and end. It feels more like I read a magazine, flipping between pages in no specific order, reading different articles. And I don't know about anyone else, but I don't really get that same fulfilled feeling after reading a magazine like I would a book. 

The way the book was set up obviously had it's con's, but it had it's pro's too. What I liked most about this book was that it really showed off his personality, and his true flair and talent for entertainment. I was never bored hoping a chapter would hurry up, or skipping ahead. He switched it up a lot so it wasn't just chapter after chapter of the same old story-telling-tone. In one chapter where he explains how he meet his husband for example, he has him write his own little notes in the columns of how he thought it happened or comments on certain events. One chapter he is himself, interviewing himself. One chapter he writes a letter to his kids (but as adults) titled "how I became a bro" where he tells the story of how he got the role of Barney Stinton on "How I Met You're Mother." He had me laughing out loud a lot. I guess I knew that he was funny, but he really has a talent when it comes to humor. I appreciate that. I also liked how it wasn't the typical autobiography that only highlights the big moments and their rise to the top. He tells his story in a more relatable approach by including the small moments too. My favorite chapter might have been when he tells the story of how one time him and David (his husband) stayed at a "haunted" castle in Ireland and after eating an old space cake, they get scared and film the place all night blair-witch style. (I about peed my pants imagining myself in that situation lol.) So maybe the castle part isn't totally relatable, but what I liked was that it wasn't included for any purpose other than to share a random funny memory between them. Those are the stories I love to hear most about peoples lives. The glitz and the glamour of being a celebrity are all great to hear about, but it's nice to see behind the curtain and what they're like as normal people too. (Although I did find it interesting to hear about the glamorous life of being friends with Elton John.) And in the same way as a magazine would be, it was easy to pick up and read anywhere. I didn't have to pay too much attention to the words and how they felt and what they meant to me. I took it everywhere with me and because the chapters were generally only a few pages long, I could read whenever I had a few spare minutes; in the car, under the dryer at the hair salon, during nap time. (Not mine, the kids I watch.) So I guess even though I was confused at times, I also appreciated his simple approach to it. 

But more important to me than the writing style, is the story itself. I was intrigued by NPH based on only a few simple things that I knew about him before reading this book; he seems like a good guy, he's funny and he's gay. I think that's probably the main reason that I was drawn towards reading about him, because he is gay. I admire that. I know it's not a choice, so maybe admire isn't the best word to use. It's more like respect. I have a huge respect for their stories, their strength, their truthfulness and just their total honest commitment to be themselves. And when I think of NPH, who I hadn't known anything about prior to reading this book, there's just something about him that I knew I would like and respect. He isn't just some basic celebrity. (Good use of basic, y/n?) One of the first few chapters I fell on was a letter from his first television director and it explains exactly what I knew, but didn't know that I knew about him:

"As I've watched you grow up and evolve, from near and then afar, I have often been struck by the long road you've traveled with such grace, and no small amount of courage. You have become a role model for a great many people over the last number of years. There's a reason the social and cultural shift toward acceptance of and comfort with gay marriage has had such a rapid rise, and you are very much a part of that welcome phenomenon. Not that being gay is your defining characteristic; but it, and the grace with which you have communicated that aspect of your life to the public, is certainly part and parcel of who you are, and is an inspiration to many." - Steven Bochco 

He's a great role model, not only for men or for gays, but for everyone. He has this confidence and sureness of himself that I find so inspiring. More than once mid-book I would stop to YouTube certain roles he played, or interviews he mentioned, and I stumbled upon this "it gets better" video that he made in the wake of a number of teen suicides a few years ago and I thought it was just beautiful.

Again, he takes such a simple approach. ("For the love of pete!") Isn't there something about him that just seems so genuine? I mean, it looks like he just stopped off mid-run to film this. I loved it. (I'm also into suicide prevention though too.) I think it's a good message for not only high-school age kids going through hard times, but anyone who's struggling because they feel like they're different. Which I think we all go through at one time or another. Be proud of who you are! 

I just really admired his outlook on life. Never was there a time in his story that he complained, or was negative. He never talked about any dark, depressing times and I don't think that's because he didn't have them, I think he just chooses to look at them in a different light. And it's clear that he is just so passionate. He's found his passions and he goes for them and lives them out, regardless of the money or the fame in a lot of cases. (Although, he does admit that he's very competitive, so he rarely fails.)  For example, he talks about a time during HIMYM (How I Met Your Mother acronym) when production was stopped due to a writers strike and how he took a role in an online musical, with no pay, and still he fully committed himself to it. And guess what? It wins the Emmy that year for "Best Short-Format-Live-Action Entertainment Program." Or ever notice that he's hosted a million award shows? That's because he loves it! Or how he seems to always bring along a magic tricks when he does t.v interviews? (I didn't know this before, but he does.) That's because he loves that too! I think there's something to be learned from someone who does exactly what they're over-the-moon passionate about, and they succeed. And I can't leave out that the passion he has for him family just melted my heart. He might have won me over with just his kids honestly ;)

But, back to the way the book was set up. I really didn't care for the way it ended. The real in the last few pages. It ends with a sing-a-long, that goes something like this:  

You made the trip from the past
All the way to the present !
Your journeys over at last,
And it wasn't unpleasant!...

Which is cute and all, because he likes to write these little jingles (he writes them for the award shows!) but again, I wanted to know more. Where is he now? What's next? I have no idea what was the "last" chapter in regards to real time. So while I probably would have preferred to read his story beginning to end, I still got the message. And...spoiler alert, I don't know if I'll ever give a bad review on a book. Especially this style. Much like NPH, I'm just a glass half-full kind of person, so I can always find the good in something. And I would say that this book fell more on the half-full side. And until my next review you can find me bing watching HIMYM on Netflix...

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own, obviously ;)

**Comments are turned off. This is a book review. One opinion. Also, I used the word gay 4 times, and I don't want to get into a discussion about it lol.**
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