15 April 2013

Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

Oh, my goodness.  I've been in a bit of a book-reading slump lately.  I say "book-reading" not to be redundant but rather to differentiate from my fanfic reading, which has most decidedly not been in a recent slump.  Up until today, it was taking me on average about three weeks to finish a single book, not least because I was actively reading about a dozen different ones and making no good headway in any of them.

Today, though, I began and finished David Sedaris' wonderful new essay collection, Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls. Maybe it's because it was purely fun to read and not something I had to read for work is what did the trick, but my goodness, I was positively chortling through most of it.  Much to my husband's and my cats's dismay; the former because he actually has to do work today and the latter because it's much more difficult for them to sleep on my lap when I'm doubled over and shaking with laughter.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sedaris once when he was on tour for Me Talk Pretty One Day, a terrible day in July in Jackson, MS, when the store's air conditioning wasn't working and there were no windows to open. He was a serious trouper and very good natured about it, and for which I admired him.  Since then, I've listened to most of his books on audio, and a couple of years ago at the same bookstore, I attended another reading: this one in the comfort of air conditioning, accompanied by $2 beers.  Sedaris told a bizarre poo-in-hand story that prompted me to write one of my favorite blogposts [because apparently I never moved beyond the scatological phase, developmentally speaking], which you can find here.)

 That same night, I remember that my husband and I were the first to laugh at one of jokes in his "book titles that take on a whole new meaning when you remove one letter" sketch: The Count of Monte Cristo. Since it was in Mississippi, perhaps the crowd initially went to Crisco (which admittedly isn't all that funny) and it wasn't until Sedaris, waiting for the other shoe to drop, kept saying, with emphasis, The *Count* of Monte Cristo. At which point the crowd just hooted.

Speaking of owls, I loved this book.  I almost wasted a perfectly good cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee over breakfast this morning by snorting most of it through my nose. My husband, driven to distraction, actually had to crank up his music in the studio today while working in order to drown out my laughter. (Though this gesture somehow loses some of its potency since it was Sibelius he was cranking up.)

As with any collection, some pieces are stronger than others, and I particularly loved "Author, Author" and "Laugh, Kookaburra." There are some darker, "imagined pieces" (for lack of a better term, since "fiction" doesn't quite fit) in between the first person essays/anecdotes that sometimes veered beyond Sedaris' traditional balance of humor and sardonicism into uncomfortable territory.

Anyway, here are some passages that spoke to me.  Maybe they'll speak to you, too.

On things he wants to say to parents when their children are being obnoxiously whiny: "Listen, I'm not a parent myself, but I think the best solution at this point is to slap the child across the face. It won't stop its crying, but at least now it'll be doing it for a good reason."

On those creepy old men at church who constantly ask young people if they're dating yet: "[They'd] even refer to newborn babies as "lady-killers" and wonder how many hearts they had broken. Like it wasn't enough to be dating at the age of three weeks, you also had to be two-timing someone."

"Gambling to me is what a telephone pole might be to a groundhog. He sees that it's there but for the life of him doesn't understand why. Friends have tried to explain the appeal, but I still don't get it.  Why take chances with money?"

On mocking people: "It was one of those situations I often find myself in while traveling. Something's said by a stranger I've been randomly thrown into contact with, and I want to say, 'Listen. I'm with you on most of this, but before we continue, I need to know who you voted for in the last election.' If [the person's] criticism was coming from the same place as mine, if she was just being petty and judgmental, then we could go on all day, perhaps even form a friendship. If, on the other hand, it was tied to a conservative agenda, I was going to have to switch tracks."  (Oh, God, that's so true of me, too, that I read the passage twice and was embarrassed for both Sedaris and myself.)

Sedaris doesn't pull any punches when it comes to his observations of human behavior.  He must be uncomfortable to live with sometimes, but then he turns around and skewers himself with the same sense of vicious patheticism and I think, "well, okay, then."

NB: Little Brown will publish Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls later this month. I read an advance reading copy that was provided at my request from my sales rep. I will probably seek the audio version, too, for my car so I can enjoy it all over again!


  1. Sedaris just CRACKS ME UP! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this :)

    1. I know--and it's even better having listened to him, so I could hear the stories in his voice while I was reading.

  2. David Sedaris is hilarious! He always has me laughing out loud. I have been to a reading of his as well and thought it was fantastic. He has such a unique sense of humor, sometimes uncomfortably so. Yet still always funny in my book.

    I can't wait for Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls to come out and was so happy to read a glowing review from someone I trust.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean about the discomfort, but I think it's brilliant to use humor to push people beyond their comfort zone. I look forward to reading your review once you have had the chance!

  3. It's been forever and a day since I read any Sedaris -- maybe I should pick this one up soon.

    And I'm glad to hear that you've come out of a book-reading slump! I've been in a non-Harry-Potter-book-reading slump for a while... Nothing seems as awesome when you're reading HP all in a row. Le sigh.

  4. I laughed belly laughs but more than that, I admired the freedom and creativity that possess Mr. Sedaris when he takes pen into hand. Wish I could be that honest; he writes what remains in our heads because of our fear of offending others. Not Sedaris; this makes every chapter a page turner, leaving pause for thought after the last word.


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