In last week’s episode of Parks and Recreation, Pawnee: The Greatest City in America by Leslie Knope made it into Joan’s Book Club. As we learned from that episode, Leslie wasn’t actually born in Pawnee, but in neighboring Eagleton. Even though that may be true, Leslie’s true love for Pawnee shines through on every page of her new book.
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In what may be the greatest promotional easter egg ever created, you too can check out the book for yourself. (Just don’t check it out from the library. Those people are THE WORST.) Written ostensibly by Leslie Knope (with some help from the fantastically funny people behind the show, led by Nate DiMeo), the book is a triumph of the human spirit and/or a triumph of the waffles from JJ’s Diner.
Comprehensive doesn’t even begin to describe it. There are eight chapters, six appendices, and one hundred and ninety-seven footnotes. (The footnotes are a joy to read, acting as the sprinkles on top of the already sweet concoction.) It’s kind of a lot to take it all at once, unless you can speed read as fast as Chris Traeger. Instead, I recommend taking it slow so you don’t miss all of the delightful jokes. It’s a comfort to know that the writers love this show exactly as much as we do. There’s something in there from every main character. You’ll find the full list of Andy Dwyer’s previous band names, a list of Ann Perkins’ ten grossest medical stories, and an essay from Ben Wyatt about why he lives in Pawnee. I should give you fair warning that Ben’s essay might make you swoon a little bit. When that happens, go and read Andy’s band names again (“Butt Cup,” “Muscle Confusion,” etc) and you’ll be fine.
A large part of the book material is based on the mythology and character background that has already been established. Not only is that mythology expanded upon, but we are introduced to a number of other memorable characters. One of many Pawnee Profiles that highlights a member of the town is focused on Lacey Chumberly. Lacey opened a hair salon named “Lacey’s Place.” Then in 2006 she re-named it “Britney-Spears-MySpace-Hips-Don’t-Lie-Video-WWE-World-Series-Paris-Hilton-Dick-Cheney-Shooting-Incident-Zidane-Headbutt-Ted-Haggard-Peyton-Manning-Upskirt-Videos Lacey’s Place Salon.” You know, just so she could increase her Internet hits. There is also a list of the salons that have hair-related puns in their name. For instance, one of the six (six!) salons on Howell Street is named “Hairy and the Handersons Cuts and Manicures.”
Greg Daniels, co-creator of Parks and Rec, also wrote for The Simpsons back in the day. Springfield is legendary for its town’s history and extensive character base. I remember Greg saying once that he wanted Pawnee to have a similar small-town feel where you knew everyone that lived there. The book is proof of that. We haven’t even MET Mayor Gunderson, but I still know that he’s just as much a part of the town as Marlene Griggs-Knope or Sewage Joe. (And thanks to the government section of Pawnee, I can tell you that Mayor Gunderson has been in office since 1994.) Continuing with the Simpsons comparison, I do worry that the characters will turn even more cartoon-y than they already are. The book and its history does tend to set it up that way. I’m curious to know how they’re going to work the stories from the book into future episodes. Will it act as an open-to-the-public show bible or will it simply serve as an extra resource for die-hard fans? I know that I would love to see Terry Porter, Pawnee’s renowned wig collector, worked into an episode of the show.
Stellar photoshopping and an excellent use of stock photos lend authenticity to the book. We have already heard the list of Pawnee Town Slogans through the years and now we can see what the town signs actually looked like. You can also find a map of the Harvest Festival and a menu of specialty drinks from The Snakehole Lounge. (They are so much more disgusting than you can even imagine.) I recommend the Special Advertising Supplement for guaranteed laughs. You can learn all about the history of Dorothy Everton Smythe, read a comprehensive list of the Miss Pawnee Talent Competition Winners Throughout The Years, and learn about the history of the City Hall’s infamous murals. Don’t worry, there’s an entire chapter devoted to explaining precisely why Eagleton is so awful. There are so many other parts that I want to tell you about, but I’d hate to spoil the surprise. If you’d like to get a jump start on it, you can read Ron Swanson’s Nature Diary here.
While the book is a must-have for the adoring fans of the sitcom, I like to think that it could also act as a catalyst for people that haven’t started watching the show. They would happen upon the book while it was sitting on my coffee table and flip to an interview with Perd Hapley. When they read the part about Perd being named after his mother, they’d start laughing so hard that they would decide to start watching the show. And if they didn’t laugh, then I would need to re-evaluate my friendship with them.
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Pawnee: The Greatest City in America also makes you think about your relationship with your hometown. I know the next time I visit home I’m going to want to visit my local diner and order a stack of waffles. I don’t know if they’re the best in the world, but I do have fond memories of going out to eat with my family on Saturday mornings and that is something to write home about. My only real disappointment is that the book didn’t come with a giant “Joan’s Book Club” sticker for the front of the book and a “Gotcha!” sticker for the back of the book. Beyond that, the book will leave you convinced that Pawnee really is the greatest city in America.