Interview: Nick Offerman plants a call to action with new book

Photo Credit: George Saunders

Whether it be in the form of an autobiography, a woodworking manual, a collective nod to his favorite movers and shakers throughout history, or a recollection of his marriage that, at times, would make even James Joyce blush, Nick Offerman has always had something to say, with the intention of bettering the lives of people around him in some way, shape, or form.

With his latest book, Where the Deer and The Antelope Play, which hit shelves earlier this week, the intention remains the same, but the message is even more urgent.

As a vocal outdoorsman, and a staunch supporter of taking care of the planet, Offerman’s latest literary soiree brings us through a travel log of sorts, as the Parks and Recreation star ventures through Glacier National Park alongside his bromantic compatriots, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and author George Saunders. In the process, he cultivates a bountiful harvest of important topics to the surface with light-hearted execution, in a way that only Offerman can, well, offer, as he looks to plant the seeds of a call to action in protecting whatever we have left of the planet to salvage.

We caught up with Offerman ahead of his virtual book tour stop via Brookline Booksmith, which kicks off with the company of Tweedy and Saunders on Thursday (October 14), to talk about the pro-mother nature opus, what he took away from it himself, and what he hopes it accomplishes as it makes its way out into the world. 

Check it out.

Jason Greenough: Hey Nick! I’m glad we could reconnect for such a good thing. It’s been a minute since we last chatted, but I’m glad we could hype the new book. 

Nick Offerman: Well, I appreciate that. It’s funny, because my time in Boston feels so recent, and going back to when we talked about All Rise, it feels like I’ve lost two years. I have to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t just there.

That does feel like yesterday. 

Yeah, we all kind of just went on pause for a bit.

But I guess we’re pushing play in a sense now and things are starting to back more and more, and you’ve got your new book here now, Where The Deer and the Antelope Play. I’m excited to read it, but how are you feeling about this book making its way into the world?

I guess this is healthy, but I feel like this is my best one out of the five. My friends that know me and have read it say they can sort of detect all the lines of questioning from my last four books sort of embroidering themselves into this final tapestry. For what it’s worth, the extent to which I can awaken myself and my readership to pay more attention to where our food comes and who grows, and how we interact with mother nature in general, I feel like I’ve taken as good of a swing as I have in me.

How long did it take for you to write this one and be happy with the full product?

Well, that’s like asking me how long it took me to build my first canoe. Whether I’m writing a book or building a boat, it’s not my full-time job, so I’m usually doing it around acting gigs and maintaining a woodshop, but if I had to sling it all together in a full-time circumstance, it probably took me between six and eight months, I would guess.

You touched on wanting to awaken people as to where their food really comes from and other aspects of that ilk, but what would you say was the initial inspiration behind starting this project?

It’s sort of been on my mind for a long time. I’ve been talking about the idea of a book like this in general, but Wendell Berry offered the spark, both in 1995 and a few years ago. In both instances, it was both him and his work that spoke to me, or called to me and said ‘here’s a particular brand of ignorance of which you’re suffering, Nick, now see if you can pull your head out of said rear end, and maybe bring some others with you.’ 

With a nod towards our shared culpability as stumbling mammals, it’s asking ‘What have we done wrong? And what can we do better?’

Right on. With that in mind, obviously there’s a lot at play with the idea of where society has gone wrong over time in both a political and social sense. For you, was it ever a part of it to actively avoid blunt political statements in this book to keep it from those divisive elements?

Well, I always do my best to appeal to as large of an audience as possible, but when you get into conversations about American decency or lack thereof, it’s hard not to include a citation here and there that people may perceive as political, but I wouldn’t. I’d consider those empathic or humanistic. I don’t care who you’re voting for or what your politics are, but if your stance is ‘I would like to see the other side cry real tears and feel pain,’ then I would like to speak out against that. I don’t care who you voted for, I just don’t think we should hope for each other to experience pain. What I’d hope for is that we’d want each other to experience comfort and justice. Call me crazy.

It does seem like wishful thinking in some aspects, and at this point in time, it’s seeming a bit further away, but I feel that. Now, with your previous books, they’ve all offered up a different angle, vibe and perspective from each other. How does it feel different for you, as the writer, to put this book together and add it to your collection?

I mean, the simplest answer is that I’m older and hopefully more mature, and a bit wiser. So, with each effort, I take what I’ve learned, and with this being my first book after having lived through the four years of the last president, and then the pandemic, which created a lot of chaos and human turmoil, to which this is somewhat of a reaction. I’m embarrassed for us as a society for how we’re able to shoot ourselves in the foot over and over again here in a country where we supposedly get to pick what happens. If I write another book in five years, I’d hope that it would be five years smarter and involve new ingredients and techniques that have come to me since I wrote this one.

We’re human beings. We’re mammals, always making mistakes as we strive to do things right, and so until my faculties begi nt fail me, I feel like each attempt is better and better.

As a reader of your work, I can confirm that that is the case. It gets better every time. Now, shifting gears to the virtual book tour you have coming up. You’ve got an event on October 14th through Brookline Booksmith. How are you feeling about that? It’s still different with the virtual aspect, but how are you feeling about bringing this to the virtual audience of the Brookline Booksmith?

I have a couple of strong ties to Boston. One of which is the incredible time I had there performing in A Confederacy of Dunces at the Huntington Theatre a few years ago, and I’m also a staunch supporter of the North Bennet Street School, which is kind of the most venerated trade school with an incredible woodworking program in the country. So, my time with those two institutions has given me a deep love and appreciation for Boston. It’s sort of like our Quebec City, wherein you realize it’s the wellspring of good ideas, and where we first planted the notions of what has become our democratic experiment, and so I love bringing Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders to a conversation in Boston specifically because, one thing I love about books in general is that hopefully I have a few good ideas in mind, and hopefully some smart young women or men will read it and do something amazing.

That’s what I love about the world of entertainment. For better or worse, I just hope that, with the things that I do, I can help to inspire someone who is smart and then maybe they’ll cure cancer. THat’s pretty much what I set out to do when I started writing this book. I just thought ‘I’ve had enough with cancer, so let’s see if I can create the catalyst through a particular arrangement of nouns and verbs, throw in a few adverbs, and see what happens.

Your work certainly has been entertainment for a lot of people, but it also has been helpful in that sense of offering a new perspective that I hope people can get behind. Now, you mention Jeff and George joining you for this event. How did they come to be involved with the project?

The first third of the book is the three of us taking a hiking trip through Glacier National Park, and we have a three-way bromance that is about seven years old now. When I realized that it wasn’t safe to gather people together in a theatre for book signing events like I usually do on tour, which, by the way, really bums me out because one of my favorite things to do is gather a few thousand people together and make them suffer through me reading my book out loud. For obvious reasons, since I have to do it virtually, that was sort of the obvious choice was to do one with Jeff and Geroge, because our shared ideology and or shared interests are closely attached to inspiration for this book, and Boston just made sense as one of the venerable bookstores that threw their hats into the ring. We said it’s the birthplace of so much of the structure of our country’s ideology, so let’s get our three hippy heads together and see what kind of goulash we can stir up.

In terms of attracting people to this event, it’s all about ‘come join us for the same reason that I love to ride in the back seat of the coolest big brothers you could ever hope for, because they will inevitably teach us all about Frank Zappa and Buddhism, and everything in between. Listening to Jeff and George wax philosophical and empathic will be well worth the price of admission, and I’ll just happen to be there, trying to stay out of their way.

There ya go, it should be a fun night. So we’ve touched on a lot of the elements of the book that really shine through, but for you, what was the most rewarding aspect of putting this together and really shaping it into what it has become?

This is my fifth book. My first book is stories from my life, with me fulminating about topics I have stuck in my craw. But my second book is celebrating twenty-one American muckrakers that I admire. My third is a woodworking book. My fourth book is written with my wife, as sort of a memoir of our marriage, so this is the first book of mine, since the very first one that I’m sort of pulling out of the air. It’s incredibly rewarding, because I’ve had this notion on my mind for many years, which is having been made aware of my own ignorance to my relationship with nature and our natural resources, and the health of the watershed, as an American consumer and a participant in capitalism, we’re all so coddled as to not have any idea about what’s going on with our soil, and water, and air, unless it’s a news story once in a while. Even then we’ll be like ‘oh, they spilled a bunch of oil again. Great! Anyway, what’s going on with fantasy football?’ 

So, I’ve really enjoyed manifesting this vision of hollering to myself and my fellow Americans and earthlings that if we are to survive on this planet, we start paying more attention to the participation we engage in with our planet’s economy.

I couldn’t agree more! 

I just want to clarify that, when I say ‘economy,’ I don’t mean the little money economy on Wall Street and our nation’s financial religious worship. It’s the economy of all things, which Wendel Berry refers to as ‘The Great Economy.’ It’s all of creation, and it doesn’t matter what our Gross National Product is in any country. In the final reckoning, what matters is the bank statement that mother nature is keeping for us, and we’re paying far too little attention to that.

Well, your work, both on and off the page, is greatly appreciated, Nick.

Well, it’s my pleasure, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m far from an expert in really anything, except maybe falling down and funny dances, and I always lead with the point. I’m not talking down to anyone. Instead, I’m hoping to engender a conversation that says ‘hey, you guys, brightly colored athletic shoes are fun as hell, but are there other things that maybe we should be concerned about before we Nike ourselves into oblivion?’

NICK OFFERMAN: ‘WHERE THE DEER AND THE ANTELOPE PLAY’ VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR :: Thursday, October 14 at 8 p.m., virtual event presented by Brookline Booksmith :: $28 to $68 :: Advance tickets and event info