Summary: SICK of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.
CHOOSE correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a guest stint on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, but make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!
Choose Your Own Autobiography, by Neil Patrick Harris 7.5
Man, when you heard that Neil Patrick Harris had a book coming out called ‘Choose Your Own Biography’, you just about lost it: even though you knew nothing about it (the news bit you read was spare on detail), it stirred daydreams that it might actually be an autobiography based on the principle of the classics young readers series ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’.
‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ was one of the most popular series of children’s books in the ’80s and ’90s. Told from a second-person perspective (and in a gender and race neutral fashion), they provided alternate story options at the end of each short chapter, along with a page number for each, allowing the readers to choose the tale’s course.
You remember falling hard for those books when they first came out. It was one of the first interactive pieces of entertainment that you had ever encountered and, being an avid reader, it was the perfect medium for you. You read as many as you could and soon graduated to more complex books of the genre, such as the Steve Jackson books and the ‘GrailQuest’ series (both requiring dice).
You were hooked!
So imagine your enthusiasm for a geeky nostalgic wink at this childhood favourite! After having seen Harris in ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog‘, you felt that he might be the right kind of person for this type of endeavour: he projected an appreciation and understanding of nerddom that could easily inspire a book such as this one. You requested it from the library, pronto!
And you counted the months til its release!
The Book Arrives
1. If, when you receive it, you set it aside so that you may continue going through your growing pile of reads, stop reading now: the book is so popular that you weren’t able to renew it; you eventually have to return it unread. You may never find out just how good the book was.
2. If, when you receive it, you set aside what you’re currently reading to read this instead, carry on.
When it finally arrives, you make a point of tackling it right away; you know that it is in great demand and that you won’t get the chance to renew it. It grabs you right at the onset, with its self-deprecating tone and zany attitude: Harris fawns over the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’, which he devoured as a kid, and pokes fun at “self-serving celebrity autobiographies”.
The first passage of this interactive autobiography sets the stage with Harris’ birth. It’s an awkward opening because it suggests that the reader, now living Harris’ life, is aware enough to understand and remember that moment. It was probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn’t really work for you. Only his flowery description of his parents appeals to you.
At the end of that chapter, you get to choose a course for Neil Patrick Harris’ life. As can be expected from this type of book, ‘Choose Your Own Autobiography’ leads you all over the place, from one section to the next, until you finally get to the end – but skipping many chapters, as most don’t fall into the trajectory that you randomly lay out for your non-fictional hero.
1. To enjoy ‘Choose Your Own Autobiography’, read Part B.
2. To pick apart ‘Choose Your Own Autobiography’, read Part A.
The read is a breeze, but it isn’t as coherent as you would have liked. Harris (or his editor, as the case may be) sometimes jumps from one part of his life to another in non-chronological ways, which makes for an unusual experience. The chapters also don’t necessarily connect logically, leaving huge gaps in the story arc of NPH’s life; it feels a bit too random for your taste.
Another problem you encounter is that some chapters have the reader go back to the page he/she came from. Well, unless one knows that’s going to happen, one doesn’t keep one’s page – one just moves on. But, given that the book isn’t linear, good bloody luck finding the page it asks you to return to. That could be annoying if you doesn’t check the new page first.
Alright. That’s enough. Stop bitching and go back to the start. Keep reading until you finally enjoy the book. Then, and only then do you move on to Part B.
You love the creativity involved in this project. Neil Patrick Harris not only came up with this silly interactive autobiography, but he peppers it with all sort of delights, such as crossword puzzles, recipes, reproductions of speeches he’s written and tweets he’s sent, doodles, “hand-written” notations and the medium’s requisite pictures. It’s really not your average autobiography.
You also love the self-consciously dorky -but endearing- humour that he litters the chapters with. You don’t know if it’s his own, but it makes him seem grounded and accessible even as he admits to some cringe-inducing moments of egotism. And the latter is the part you like the most: his self-awareness and honest assessments; he sees himself stumbling at times but strives to improve.
It makes him seem very human, but in that good way.
Ultimately, you enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris’ ‘Choose Your Own Autobiography’. Its content is terrific, as is the concept (which, let’s face it, is pure genius), even if it doesn’t read coherently every time you give it a go. The advantage is that you can read each part on its own, if you’d like, and it remains entertaining. So you will likely just buy the book and do exactly that.
Or you’ll just keep going on many other new adventures. As Neil Patrick Harris.