I know David Sedaris is a funny writer, and you should know it too. Since the publication of Barrel Fever (Little, Brown & Co., 1994), he’s kept readers and live audiences howling at his comic misadventures and wry observations. Remember Sedaris’ stint as a department store elf at Christmas? How about his essays on life in France, where he and his partner, Hugh, lived before relocating to England? Sedaris is the real deal. He’s not just concerned with being witty and tickling funny bones; he has a way of sharing the truth that’s as artful as any fiction writer. Sedaris creates an honest connection with his readers—a genuine bond.
I read his new book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls (Little, Brown & Co., $27), and was struck over and over again by how much these essays moved me. Sure, they’re funny and entertaining, but there’s an emotional component I didn’t anticipate. These stories have heart, along with the humor. Nearly a third of the stories originally appeared (in slightly altered form) in The New Yorker. Sedaris might have broken into the magazine as a humorist, but his continued presence indicates the level of craft and maturity in his writing.
Sedaris paints vivid family portraits and does not shy away from complicated father-son dynamics. In stories “Attaboy” and “Memory Laps,” Sedaris touches on his father’s firm feelings about discipline and athletic achievement. In “Standing Still,” Sedaris revisits his early 20s, living in the same apartment building as his sister, struggling to make ends meet. “Loggerheads” is an absolute knockout. In it, Sedaris carefully juggles childhood friendships, desire and loss, and he throws in a few sea turtles for good measure.
Sedaris travels a lot, so there are stories about French dentists, the amount of spitting that occurs in China, roadside litter in England and encountering a kookaburra in Australia. In “A Guy Walks Into a Bar Car,” Sedaris recalls two memorable train rides with strangers and their lasting impact on him.
The only problem I had with Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is the presence of six short pieces Sedaris wrote especially for speech and debate students who participate in “forensics” programs across the country. According to the author’s note, “students take published short stories and essays, edit them down to a predetermined length and recite them competitively.” “Think Differenter” was OK, but some of the other short pieces—written from such disparate points of view as a conservative Christian, a selfish bride, a teenage girl, etc.—fell flat. If Sedaris wants to publish a separate book of outrageous and provocative essays, so be it. But none of those “forensics” essays feature Sedaris. I missed his voice, his personal experiences and his left-of-center worldview. The best reason to read David Sedaris is Sedaris himself. ★★★★☆
Stay cool with “Bookini,” our poolside reading series by M. Scott Krause.
[ Book Wishes ]
Chosen by Vegas Seven A&E Editor and sometimes-repentant gourmand Cindi Moon Reed.
Finally, a diet book that fits Las Vegans’ hedonistic lifestyle! The New York Times food writer and cookbook author (he’s famous for the How to Cook Everything books) Mark Bittman debuts his version of healthy eating on April 30. In VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health .. for Good (Clarkson Potter, $26), Bittman presents “a compromise that offers the benefits of restraint without the hardship of perpetual denial.” Sounds like the best of both worlds … if you don’t mind rescheduling the champagne brunch buffet.