Nice Try: Sto­ries of Best Inten­tions and Mixed Results

Josh Gondel­man

  • Review
By – March 23, 2020

Josh Gondelman’s Nice Try: Sto­ries of Best Inten­tions and Mixed Results is a hilar­i­ous dive into the mind of a com­e­dy writer. It’s filled with short anec­dotes of Gondel­man search­ing for mean­ing in every inter­ac­tion and life event — from hav­ing sex for the first time, to adopt­ing his first dog, to ditch­ing duties as a coun­selor-in-train­ing at a sum­mer camp — each sto­ry is a win­dow into what makes the author who he is. The book exam­ines his fears (which range from being kicked by a horse to income inequal­i­ty), the food he can cook (fish tacos and spaghet­ti), and most impor­tant­ly, being nice. What being nice has meant to him specif­i­cal­ly, and what it means in the con­text of the greater world — in a word? It’s complicated.

Gondel­man was always the nice kid, try­ing too hard so peo­ple would like him. Being a nice per­son and being a good per­son are not the same thing, though; as the book evolves, the read­er sees Gondel­man under­go for­ma­tive expe­ri­ences that help him real­ize why he is the way he is, and how to use his kind­ness for good —and maybe some­times for the tini­est bit of mayhem.

The book is breezy and fun to read, and Gondel­man man­ages to cov­er a sig­nif­i­cant amount of his life tak­ing the read­er through child­hood, ado­les­cence, and his time as a pre-kinder­garten teacher, clue­less boyfriend, stand-up com­ic, and hus­band all with ease and a smile — along with a side of anx­i­ety and a major help­ing of self-reflec­tion. He tack­les neme­sis’ and faint­ing spells, the death of a loved one, exam­in­ing the com­plex emo­tions of hat­ing and lov­ing a foot­ball team at the same time, and meet­ing his wife online in a way that is relat­able, hon­est, and always self-deprecating.

Main­ly, this book is about how to be a kind per­son. How to not just be nice, but to be good — to oth­er peo­ple and to your­self. How to hold your­self account­able for your actions and learn from past behav­ior. It’s about growth, change, and real­iz­ing that just because a behav­ior was a good way to act in the past doesn’t mean it’s the cor­rect way to act now. Gondel­man dug through his mem­o­ries and turned them upside down, show­ing the parts that were buried for years. He exam­ines him­self with the harsh light of wis­dom that only time can give and says, I can do better.

Evie Saphire-Bern­stein is the pro­gram direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go with a B.A. in Eng­lish and a minor in Jew­ish Stud­ies. Before join­ing the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil team in 2015, she spent a year and a half work­ing with­in the Con­ser­v­a­tive Move­ment as the Net­work Liai­son for the Schechter Day School Net­work. She is a recent trans­plant to New York City, after liv­ing in Chica­go for most of her life. In her spare time, Evie is a writer and blogger.

Discussion Questions