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Book Review: Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson)

Paddle Your Own Canoe Wolf and Iron Book Review

Some Years ago a friend of mine mentioned that I was “ So much like Ron Swanson“. I didn’t know who he was talking about at the time since I hadn’t watched NBC’s Parks and Recreation (I think I was into The Office and some other shows at the time). When I finally watched, what was probably season 3 or 4 by then, I was hooked. I did remember watching part of an episode a few years back and remembered liking the guy with the mustache. “ This guy seems pretty funny” I thought.

Over the years I have become a pretty serious fan of Ron Swanson, writing an article on the Manly Virtues of Ron Swanson, and oft quoting him around the house in my best Ron Swanson voice. I really love how NBC (and Nick Offerman) kept the character funny but didn’t make him the typical male idiot of the show. I was pretty excited to hear that he was going to release a book on “How to Live Deliciously.”

Paddle Your Own Canoe Book Review

Before reading the book it was hard not to equate Offerman with Swanson as they have a lot in common. Both are woodworkers, Offerman being slightly more artistic in his pursuits with the Offerman Woodshop (go check it out, it’s awesome), and both have a love for music, particularly the saxophone. The mustache and beard are real and Offerman’s mannerisms and voice aren’t varied that much to get into character. After reading the book, however, the distinctions are pretty clear.

As with most of my books I listened to it on Audible which was great because you get to hear Nick Offerman speak and interpret the book as it was meant to be heard. He also takes advantage of it being recorded and is a little more ad-lib rather than reading straight from the text.

Synopsis

The goal of the book seems to be to take us through Offerman’s life and for the reader to glean what we can from it. Offerman’s dry sense of humor carries us through his years: the lessons he learned growing up on the farm, high school romances, theatre classes, going out on his own, taking odd jobs, woodworking, becoming an actor, etc. All the while he gives little nuggets of advice like “Do this” or “Don’t do that” most of which come out pretty straightforward with a good deal of cursing thrown in to make sure it sticks.

As Nick himself states:

“Basically, this book boils down to: how an average human dipshit like myself, relying solely on warped individuality and a little elbow grease, can actually rise from a simple life of relative poverty to one of prosperity, measured in American dollars and Italian band saws, sure, but more importantly, laughter, wood shavings, and kisses.” – Nick Offerman, Paddle Your Own Canoe

The Good

Nick Offerman Bares All

If you want to know more about Nick Offerman’s life, this book will definitely satisfy. From what I can tell, he doesn’t hold back on anything, from his young sexcapades to his obvious hatred of Christian fundamentalist (more on that below), all delivered with gusto and vivid detail. It’s obvious he takes a good deal of pride in his path. From my vantage point, as a reader, this is great and wouldn’t want anything else but the real him. I love to hear about the moments and experiences in another person’s life, I think we all do, and Offerman certainly keeps you engaged as he moves from small town country shit-tosser to quirky theatre student and on to starving artist and professional actor.

There’s No Substitute for Hard Work

While early in the book, Offerman seems to have very liberal views, he makes it very clear that he got to where he is by a willingness to work hard when others wouldn’t; a lesson which harkens back to his time on the farm. In fact, his woodworking skills allowed him to stay close to theatre and feed himself so he wasn’t quite the starving artist that many of his friends were. He heavily recommends working with your hands and knowing the pleasure that comes from creating something unique rather than buying some off-the-shelf. How very Swanson of him!

He Loves His Wife Like a Man Should

In the book and in any interview where he mentions his wife (Megan Mullally), Offerman displays an affection for her that would make any woman envious. Most of the time this includes references to her “rack” and various copulations betwixt them, but what woman wouldn’t like to know that her man loves her and thinks she is the best thing in the world that could have happened to him?

Seriously, he should do a book on how to show love to your woman.

He’s Thankful

I was really impressed by how much gratitude Offerman had for all of the people who made an impact in his life. It shows that he is a thoughtful guy and really appreciates others who have taken him under their wing. Quite a manly trait!

Nick Seems Like a Good Guy

This is a little sweet before the sour, but even though Nick and I would disagree heavily on a number of matters, I think we could disagree well. In other words, he doesn’t come across as your typical Hollywood douche. He has convictions about certain things and they seem to be based on experiences rather than social pressure. I like a guy that can speak his mind and stand by what he thinks, as long as he has the capacity to hear the other side of the argument. All in all, he seems like the kind of guy that would make a good neighbor and a good friend.

The Bad

Let’s get one thing straight: Nick Offerman is an actor. He plays a super manly character on TV and is a joy to watch in all of the roles I have seen him play. That being said, he is a far cry from the Swansonite man you might envision. As he mentions in his book:

“Even in my family, I’m not the one you’d call manly. In most of the country (and the world), there are teenagers who could whip me in most contests, because they are working hard everyday of their lives, swinging an axe, hauling buckets of water, wrangling herds of cattle, hogs, and horses. Conversely, I memorize written lines of (brilliant) dialogue. Then I go to a trailer where my hair is coiffed and MAKEUP is applied to my face. After that, I squeeze my beefy corpus into specifically unattractive garments before heading into the set, where I then deliver my prepared scenes with all the deadpan élan I can muster.” – Nick Offerman, Paddle Your Own Canoe

He Curses, A Lot

Don’t get me wrong here, as far as cursing goes he does it well. (FYI I have an upcoming article on whether or not curing is a manly trait. I haven’t quite come to a conclusion yet though.) If you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, you won’t be after reading the book ;-).

He’s a Lucky Bastard and That’s About All

Before reading the book I thought of Offerman like the average Joe-Jack that somehow made it through. Surely he has some wisdom to impart to the rest of us Joe’s on how to live life? As it turns out, he is an average Joe-Jack but has been lucky more than anything else. Nick Offerman essentially led the life that leads most people to complete ruin and thus far has succeeded (in the temporal sense). Years of teenage sex, drunkenness, & smoking weed, have all, somehow, added up to a pretty awesome life. But not because of the lessons learned and mistakes corrected, nope, just because he was lucky.

There is No Tragedy

It took me a while to figure out what bugged me about the book, but it was this: Nothing in Offerman’s life is ever tragic. Or, if there is he never makes a mention of it. Now look, I’m not wishing anyone pain but it just strikes me as odd. No one close ever died and made an impact on him? Not even the family dog?

He Hates Christians (Well, Fundamentalist Christians)

There is probably a better way to title this: He really hates fundamentalist Christians who believe in the Bible and want to tell other’s about it. Especially Creationist.

Now, this doesn’t make the book bad, it’s just off-putting because the harshness and language he uses. I’m cool with him expressing his thoughts, but with all of the things in the world to be dead-set against, why Christianity? Why Creationist? Just a guess here, but could it be because of the life he has lived and is so proud of wouldn’t have been possible — at least not in the same way — had he been a Christian?

He doesn’t mention that he isn’t against the things Christians learn. That’s all good. It’s just when we try to spread it to our children, or put it in schools that sets him off. I would love to hear him talk about this more openly and get to the meat of the issue.

It’s Not Funny

I love dry humor, but this book just didn’t make me laugh like I thought it would. I suppose his irreverent style is supposed to be funny, but since I am out of high school it just doesn’t do it for me. I have read other reviews where people thought it was hilarious, so take it for what you will.

Final Thoughts

PaddleYourOwnCanoeBookCover 

I had an inkling that this book wouldn’t meet my expectations. Perhaps they were too high to begin with. While I was hoping to get a little more of a Ron Swanson vibe from the book and Nick’s life, I was disappointed to see how little practical advice he delivered. At the end of the day I think Nick would be a cool guy to know and have a few heated arguments with. I’ll still enjoy watching him play the manliest man on television.

Get the book here or the Audible version here.

Did you read it?

If you read the book I would love to get your feedback! Respond in the comments below.

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