Mini reviews of essay collections by David Sedaris: Calypso, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.
Around the middle of October I first encountered David Sedaris through his 2018 memoir Calypso, which I really enjoyed on audio and still consider to be my favorite book of his. The collection deals with themes of loss and growing old, and as I would later find out, it’s a bit more reflective than the author’s work typically is; I thought it struck the perfect balance between being lighthearted and serious.
Sedaris’s glib style makes for easy listening at work, so over the next two months I listened to three more collections: Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I quickly learned that if you’ve listened to one Sedaris collection, you’ve listened to them all, but something about his work’s monotony pairs so well with how mundane and repetitious administrative work is.
I’m still not sure about how I feel about Sedaris as a writer. I tried finishing a few essays from Naked in a used bookstore a few weeks ago, and I found the prose to be simple and bare without the aid of his voice and the pieces I read struck me as much more mean spirited and embittered in print than they did on audio. Listening to his audiobooks, which he performs himself, I’ve always thought of Sedaris as more droll than clever or funny, but in print he comes across as snarky more than anything else.
I’m planning on checking out his holiday-themed collection later in the month, and then I’ll probably take a break from his writing. Mini reviews of the books I have read are included below.
A collection of humor essays centered on speech and language, Me Talk Pretty One Day is David Sedaris’s most focused work as well as his most famous. The collection brings together stories describing the author’s childhood, travel writings detailing his move to France, and personal pieces reflecting on his aimlessness as a young adult. From recounting his experience of speech therapy as an elementary student to recalling his first gig teaching creative writing, Sedaris covers many subjects without straying from the collection’s theme of language. His stories are sarcastic and self-indulgent, and they’re better listened to than read. The collection isn’t life changing, but it passes the time nicely on a long commute or at work.
Sardonic and droll, the abridged audio of David Sedaris’s Naked offers a series of fast-moving autobiographical pieces. As in most of his work, the author is ironic and self-deprecating as he alternates between recounting memories from his childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, and recollecting his travels abroad as an adult. Because the audio is abridged, though, all the mediocre pieces that typically embellish a Sedaris collection have been removed. Naked offers the perfect introduction to the author’s work for that reason.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls takes on subjects likely to be found in any other Sedaris collection. The essays center on the author’s many travels, his writing, and his relationship with his father; several of the pieces rehash material he covers more effectively elsewhere, from early essay collections like Naked to his recent memoir Calypso. A set of short stories, more disturbing than entertaining, follows the essays, but it’s best skipped. I think listening to the collection on audio made me like it more than I would have had I read it, since Sedaris’s voice always brings his writing to life, but I’d recommend more inspired collections to readers who are new to his work.
A collection of twenty-one personal essays on approaching middle age with humor and hope, Calypso stitches together the poignant and the satirical. Sedaris takes on a wide array of lighthearted topics, from fitbits to vacation homes, as well as more serious subjects, like illness, addiction, and death. The author’s wit shines no matter what he discusses, though, and he paints a vivid portrait of his family across the entire memoir. The concluding essays focusing on his sister’s suicide and his mother’s alcoholism are especially moving. A few of the middle essays drag on, but otherwise the memoir is engaging.