To say David Sedaris is our generation’s Mark Twain might be over-simplifying his role in modern culture. Sure, both Sedaris and Twain wrote of travel and living abroad, but did Twain ever write about his first colonoscopy or his father’s requisite uniform around the house (boxer shorts and a t-shirt)? (If he did, I’d like to see that, please, so just contact me c/o Bookreporter.com.) Sedaris is not only a keen observer of modern life but also a satirist of how truly absurd most of it is. When pondering the many incarnations of the iPhone, he posits: “…isn’t that technology’s job? To lighten our burden? To broaden our horizons? To make it possible to talk to your attorney and listen to a Styx album and check the obituaries in the town where your parents continue to live and videotape a race riot and send a text message and stun someone into submission at the same time?”
"With this latest collection, Sedaris secures his place as a national (or international) treasure, and anything he publishes is a literary event to be celebrated."
Never far from his caustic eye is his own family, especially his 90-year-old father. In one of the more bittersweet moments of their unique father/son dynamic is “Memory Laps,” where the author recounts his uneventful swimming career as a child. His father’s admiration was impossible to win, as it was saved for someone else --- another kid on his team. After he won his first swim meet, young Sedaris asked his father, “Did you see that? I won!” To which his nonplussed father replied, “Maybe you did, but it was only by a hair…I don’t really see that you’ve got anything to brag about.” Instead of supporting and encouraging his own son, Sedaris’s father threw his support behind this other, more athletic child with all his might. “That Greg is magic. Success is written all over his face, and when it happens I’m going to say, ‘Hey, buddy, remember me? I’m the one who first realized how special you are.’” Whether it was Greg Sakas or Donny Osmond, Sedaris knew his father’s allegiance was anywhere but with his oldest son. “Everything you touch turns to crap,” he was told enough that it became a popular refrain.
But Sedaris took all this negativity and used it as fuel for his own creative fire. “I’ll show you…proving him wrong was what got me out of bed every morning...” When he became a super-successful, bestselling author, Sedaris called his father in the summer of 2008 to tell him that his book was number one on the Times bestseller list. “Well, it’s not number one on the Wall Street Journal list, he said.” Tough crowd, especially coming from someone who hasn’t read a book since 1996’s PUTT TO WIN. Tough or not, all this has made David Sedaris who he is, and as harsh as his father might come off, we are all secretly thankful that he has provided this golden trough of material from which Sedaris gets to mine his material.
Sedaris has come a long way from the wanna-be writer who used to clean apartments when not working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland. These days, he splits his time between homes in London, the English countryside, and Normandy, France, and spends most of his time traveling on book tours. Although it’s a little harder to relate to these “first-world” proceedings, he still is able to tell stories of his frequent acquisitions of rare taxidermied animals or the renovation on his English country cottage and not lose you. Maybe it’s because he seems to truly enjoy interacting with his readers. At each event he appears, he always tries to make a connection with each person he talks to, usually by asking oddly specific questions such as, “When was the last time you touched a monkey?” Even a mundane activity such as waiting in line at Starbucks, he can spin into observational comedy gold. And for that, Sedaris is a comic literary gem.
With LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS, his eighth book, Sedaris proves he still has it. Although some might feel he has mined the best material (especially about his family) in earlier books, such as NAKED and ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, he still manages to make us laugh out loud with his sharp, witty writing. With this latest collection, Sedaris secures his place as a national (or international) treasure, and anything he publishes is a literary event to be celebrated.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on April 26, 2013