In sincere and humorous essays, Josh Gondelman, an Emmy, Peabody and WGA Award-winning writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, entertains at his expense, recalling both misfortunate and momentous episodes of his life. After revealing that being called "not nice" by his wife, Maris, nearly sparked happy tears, the "actually very nice" Gondelman shares anecdotes of trying to do more. He shaves "male pattern baldness" into his hair "to look more like Michael Keaton" for a school play, tries MDMA "for love" and lets his dog walker impersonate Michael Jackson at his wedding. Other stories highlight foul-ups, like serving Maris a dinner that could have killed her, and inspirations, like the speech he would give graduating high schoolers ("I Hope These Years Aren't the Best of Your Lives").
While significant milestones do appear, it's seemingly insignificant ones that resonate--becoming a "Real New Yorker" with a flip of the bird and wanting to spend his life with Maris after a well-timed Sublime lyric. Gondelman's vulnerability emerges when expressing shame at fainting during Gone Girl and recounting tears shed for his deceased Patriots-fan grandmother during the Super Bowl. Above all, Gondelman's unexpected analogies will please John Oliver fans: he compares his pug to yogurt ("technically alive, but not especially vigorous") and New York to "a tapeworm for your bank account and self-esteem." Both witty and matter-of-fact, Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results encourages readers to take solace in Gondelman's mishaps and keep trying until desired results are achieved. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer