Review of The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson

This is one of those delightful surprises you run across occasionally when you defy your instincts and take up a book that seems entirely outside your general interest.   I know Rainn Wilson only faintly, as a quirky character from the television series The Office, which I liked a lot in the beginning but drifted away from after a couple of seasons. I presumed this would be something of a comic autobiography by a moderate celebrity who thinks his fame has given him license to present his life as more funny, poignant and more interesting than everyone else’s.

Well, it turns out that Rainn Wilson’s life is more funny, poignant and more interesting than most people’s.  More importantly, he turns out to be – as I’m sure people more in tune with the culture than I am already know – more challenging and serious, too. The Bassoon King is something of a rambling trip through Wilson’s life, from his unusual upbringing as the only child of a broken hippie-like marriage who stays with his Bahai-following father through a second 20-plus year loveless rebound marriage. Along the way, he traipses through a boyhood of abject poverty in South America, an adolescence of lonely nerdhood before nerdhood became cool, a drug-addled drive for a career in theater and finally fame and something like fortune as a television and, entirely unbeknownst to me, Internet star.

Along the way, he takes side trips through exploits from his television experiences, but what impressed me most was his return to his Bahai upbringings and his interest in encouraging more comfortable discussion and reflection on spirituality. I’m still of the belief that it’s best not to speak too publicly or often about religion or politics, but I like very much the ideas about discussing spirituality that he promotes in this book and, apparently, on the Internet. I can’t give this book a four-star rating, reserved for books I just wouldn’t miss, but this is a very strong three. Enjoyable, interesting and thought-provoking.