He can fashion you a walnut cigar box with dovetail joints and white oak inlays but you can’t (figuratively) put into it what Nick Offerman is. The life story behind his success as the modern he-man personality, self-made woodworker, Chicago-hewn thespian and, of course, Ron Swanson on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” has been neatly packed into his new memoir-cum-MANifesto titled “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.” A hilarious walkabout full of the deadpan jackassery that we’ve come to expect from his famously mustached baconhole, this book reveals how one man’s journey led a corn-fed boy from Minooka, Illinois to become, among other heroic titles, the entertainer that People magazine named the Sexiest Man Alive 2012: Mustache Edition.
We know Offerman too easily as “Parks and Recreation”‘s leathery department director Ron Swanson, whose puffy-eyed, coal-miner stare and distaste for anything weaker than a rotary saw delightfully complements the character of comedic queen Amy Poehler. “Paddle Your Own Canoe” is here to convince us that there is more to the man than Swanson, that “despite some loose popular misconceptions, [he] did NOT in fact drop from [his] mother’s womb wielding a full moustache and a two-headed battle-axe.” Convinced we are. What follows are pages of tales, anecdotes, sketches, love poems, opinionated monologues and “well, I’ll be damned if that’s not spot on,” brilliant life advice that walk, or paddle, you through a biographical narrative teeming with tasteful vulgarity, self-deprecating hilarity and a most humble wisdom bordering on sage-like.
Offerman writes the memoir as a guide to “One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living” and what you’ll find him to mean by “delicious” is not what you’d expect. Sure, there’s plenty of macho bawdry, advice to eat red meat, discussion about defensive practices for the basketball court, encouragement to eat steak, jockstrap purchasing, woodworking jargon, techniques for male grooming, outdoorsman-ery, whiskey (and the “lesser spirits”), upper-lip hair, instructions for making a papier-mâché replica of your genitals, splitting firewood, the eating of pork, general chivalry and coitus (plus more coitery). A big, manly list. Right.
But for those of you who think that these target topics are not your flavor and thus decide to skip the read, you’ll be missing out on what he really means by “delicious living,” or at least what it has meant for him in the inarguably fascinating, blessed life of his that he shares in detail. “Delicious living” in this memoir means long, moving passages on the heartwarming relationship he has with his family, especially his father. It means detailing the riotous, magical experiences he had with his friends and teachers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign theater cohort, which continued on into his fledgling days in Chicago with the Defiant, Steppenwolf and Red Orchid companies. It means lyrically writing the moving story of how he fell in love with “Will & Grace” actress Megan Mullally, how they courted and how some of that pure, good love you only find in books (like this one) has made him a self-titled “Lucky Bastard.” It’s rare to find a memoir that is all at once touching, funny as shit, and capable of schooling you in basic modi operandi: like not being a total asshole. Offerman has a fun, lighthearted way of telling you not to step in the bullshit while paddling with him through the read. Yes, bulls can shit in canoes. Especially in Offerman’s. But if it’s one that he personally crafted, you can trust that it’s well-built and designed to easily handle tons of it. (Charlie Puckett)
“Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living”
By Nick Offerman
Dutton, 352 pages, $26.95