[Review] - Paddle Your Own Canoe, By Nick Offerman

As Uproxx recently reminded us all, Nick Offerman was not the only one to audition for the role of Ron Swanson. Mike O’Malley, Thomas Lennon, and Matt Walsh were all up for the role, and would have all been fine in the antagonistic season one version of Ron. However, once you go beyond that point, the writers and the actor inhabiting Ron took control and the idea of any actor playing Ron Swanson other than Nick Offerman becomes unimaginable (Offerman, as he informs us in his memoir, originally auditioned for an abandoned character named Josh, essentially as an excuse by Greg Daniels and Mike Schur to get Offerman in front of NBC execs). Quite a lot of Offerman has found its way into Ron Swanson, but the public must remember that the opposite is not true.

There is very little of Ron Swanson in Nick Offerman, so if you pick up Paddle Your Own Canoe expecting Ron Swanson's guide to life, prepare to be disappointed. I suggest looking here for all you need in that department. What Canoe is, is a biography of a passionate, fully formed and expressive individual, who was lucky enough and talented enough to play one of the best fictional characters of the television era. But Ron Swanson he is not. Offerman is an artist, a romantic, a former Born Again Christan (he was in it for the sex), a recreational drug user and in one instance (almost unforgivably) a proponent of eating kale. He wears his heart very much on his sleeve, and despite a propensity for woodworking, comes off as much more of a sensitive everyman than the character he has become famous for playing.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that end in Ron Swanson.

The book is structured in 16 paired chapters. The first of which is a biographical examination of some prescient moments in Offerman's life. Topics range from growing up in a town outside of a town in rural Illinois, to his education in Chicago, his teenage exploitation of religion, and his career. These chapters are then paired with essays or examinations drawn from his successful one man show, American Ham. These philosophical murmurings include his thoughts on healthy living, manners, and facial hair. Through out all of this though, the most prevalent theme is that of family. The focus of the book is rarely Offerman himself, with the story of his life told through the family he has surrounded himself with along the way.

The lion's share is given his his farming (and extensive) family, especially his father Fred, whom Nick credits as creating more of Ron Swanson than he. When the narrative shifts to his training in Chicago, the course of his life is directed by his classmate and his teachers, who he speaks of in the same high praise as his uncles and cousins. And then, at a certain point, it becomes all about Megan Mullally. That's also when it gets sexy. If it wasn't obvious before that these are two people madly in love, than this book strips away the last lingering threads of subtly. For his part anyway, Offerman is a man bewitched.

Offerman's self description is a man who, as one chapter is titled, is unafraid to let his freak flag fly, which might be jarring for readers who know him only through Parks and Rec. Having grown up on a farm, and thus having had the hardness and stubborn resilience that comes with such an upbringing ingrained in him, he is also a highly sensitive person. His music habits include Neil Young and Enya. He advocates smoking pot. He is a man who can construct an entire theatre set himself, and than perform kabuki theatre in front of said set (and the revelation that Offerman is trained in kabuki is probably the most surprising thing revealed in the book). Theatre is his passion, which it is made clear he is as much in love with as his wife.

The style is easy to fall into, with Offerman using his pseudo-Swanson tone that he often affects in interviews and in his one man show. It's a intellectual facade, marked by the flagrant use of three dollar words and old timey speech patterns, but never comes off as anything other than genuine. He occasionally lapses into a more soft spoken self, the true Offerman revealed, and these are usually in moments of emotional introspection. Which, in another division from her NBC persona, Offerman advocates crying when there is something worth crying over. Otherwise, and especially in the chapters taken from his show, this is yet another persona, what he describes as a "jackass living in America," another role he's playing for the sake of the show.

Anyone looking for Hollywood gossip, or for another useless guide for how to make it in show business should avoid this as well, because less than one chapter is focused on his entire film career. In the entire text, he speaks ill of exactly two people. And as for how to make it big, the lesson here is hard work, perseverance, talent, luck and despite it being impossible to control and already too late, a good upbringing. Those things a person does have control over: who they surround themselves with, what kind of person they are; he rarely gives instructions, because he can speak only for himself. But he does give clear and simple examples form his life of how things can go right when you are a decent person, and wrong when you aren't. It never gets preachy and is rarely aggressive. Offerman seems to be a tranquil individual, if the narrative is to believed, speaking highly of Buddhist teachings and resorting only to outbursts when his passion is driven into extremes. In short, exactly the sort of person who would be great to spend time with, be it over a fine scotch, at a rap party or while watching an episode of Twin Peaks.

Ron Swanson is a man of our time, specifically because he is a man not of our time. He's an old fashioned, unsharing, repressed individual, a direct counterpoint to the touchy-feely, share-often modern age. A man who understands that "food is for eating, places are for being." Offerman isn't the opposite. He's simply a man, living the best he can, without irony or pretention. And a lot of people could learn a lot from that sort of self awareness. And you could do a lot worse if looking for a teacher. Paddle Your Own Canoe isn't The Secret. It never tells you what you need to do. It just makes helpful suggestions to get you on your way.

And occasionally includes illustrations for your convenience.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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