A&E

A fun format undercuts Neil Patrick Harris’ autobiographical tale

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Tod Goldberg

Three stars

Choose Your Own Autobiography By Neil Patrick Harris, $26.

Let’s dispense with the easy stuff first: Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Autobiography is a perfect re-creation of the great Choose Your Own Adventure books you probably read as a child, where you’re the main character making choices that affect the outcome of the story … including the truly shocking number of grisly deaths those books contained. You get to host the Tonys. You star on TV and the stage. Your famous friends tell you what it’s like to know you. You almost get into a fight with Scott Caan. You find yourself and your sexuality and you meet an amazing man and have twins. You get to have a happy ending … or you get eaten alive or run over by a truck.

It sounds like the grist for an amazing memoir, and maybe one day Harris will deliver that. For now, though, he’s given the world what could only be called a curiosity, utilizing a conceit that ends up being funny and entertaining only if you read the book in 10-minute increments. Harris comes off as eminently smart and likeable, clever and self-effacing, certainly, but there’s a missed opportunity here.

The wink and nod implicit by the satiric form undercuts the more profound moments of Harris’ life, specifically when he was forced to publicly deal with his homosexuality, and maybe that’s how Harris would prefer to look back on a painful episode. In 2006, when Perez Hilton was at the height of his celebrity gossip powers and took it upon himself to out gay actors, Harris ended up as one of his chief targets. In and around Hollywood, Harris’ sexuality was something of an open secret—as is often the case, his co-workers and colleagues knew, which meant their friends knew, which meant everyone knew—but the actor himself had never acknowledged it. It seems silly now, in the same way it seems silly that there was once a controversy concerning Ellen DeGeneres’ sexuality, but here was Harris, ensconced in the role of lothario Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, seared in our memory as Doogie Howser, needing to publicly announce what was or wasn’t true about himself. But as it happens here—in the disconnected second person the form requires and including a letter of apology from Hilton himself—the cultural significance of the moment feels dashed.

Joan Didion famously said that writers are always selling somebody out, but in this case it feels like Neil Patrick Harris has needlessly sold himself short. Choose Your Own Autobiography certainly has its charms and amusing moments (and even, I should note, a good recipe for Bolognese), but one wonders if somewhere down the line Harris might write a book that truly defines him.

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