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Review: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

nph autoTired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened?

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!

Neil Patrick Harris is a fabulous raconteur. If you’ve followed his career at all, then it’s really not a surprise. He has become the definition of versatile, combining actings gigs on TV, in movies, on webisodes and on Broadway with hosting duties, responsibilities as the President of the Magic Castle and fatherhood (with husband David Burtka). Add in his great Twitter presence and he and his partner’s spookily wonderful Halloween planning, and frankly, I’m exhausted just thinking about all that he has done.

As with every other aspect of his career, his autobiography is not your conventional memoir. Instead of a standard linear progressions, Harris has chosen to highlight important events in his life using the infamous “Choose Your Own Adventure” style, so beloved of many of us from our childhood. It’s a really interesting conceit, and it’s a great way to dip into different aspects of his life for a brief glimpse of different times in his life and career. There’s also lots of humorous alternatives interspersed between his own stories – honestly, I really want him to write a children’s book, just because I think it might rival Lemony Snicker for absurdity and snark.

What struck me most about his entire story is that Neil Patrick Harris is (a) a deeply grateful performer, who believes in giving 110% to whatever role he has because he understands that roles are earned, not given, and (b) a fabulously funny man who enjoys and appreciates his life and the people in it. He’s the kind of guy you want to have at your cocktail party, who you’ll call after a ridiculously bad day or who will voluntarily sit with your awful sombre Auntie  and have her laughing inside of ten minutes.

Here’s where I stumbled: Harris is a fantastic storyteller – so good, in fact, that after the first 100 pages, I became impatient with the whole “turn to page x” process. I just wanted to continue reading about each of the episodes in his life, and not to be interrupted by alternatives. There were times when I was left hungry for me, wishing that he had spent a little more time on certain sections, giving more information and detail. I loved reading about his preparation and experiences while performing as Hedwig, about his love of magic, about his relationship with David Burtka and their decision to have children together. I would have loved to have heard more about each of these things, but felt that the information was sometimes fragmented – not because of the quality of the writing, but because the format didn’t lend itself to extensive detail.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that in addition to his many and varied skills as an entertainer, the man can definitely tell a story. Fans of Harris – from television, from the stage, from his gigs hosting a variety of award shows, to Doctor Horrible or even from his movies – will find something new to discover about him. While the format may not have been entirely successful for me, I still really enjoyed the content and only wish that there had been even more for me to enjoy.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris is published by Random House of Canada, and was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ISBN: 9780385346993, 291 pages. 

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1 Response »

  1. Harris is brilliant!

    Thanks for the review. I look forward to reading it!


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