Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “David Sedaris”

Amurph11′s #CBR4 Holiday Gift Guide: Secret Santa (Review #40, Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris)

Holidays On Ice, by David Sedaris

Well, the holiday season has officially begun, which means it’s time for the giving of gifts to friends, family, and obligatory acquaintances. And I’m here to help. Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing books for everyone on your shopping list. Today, we start with that most insidiuous of obligatory Christmas purchases: the office Secret Santa.

Listen, we’ve all been through it and we all hate it, but there’s no use complaining because you can’t get out of it, not unless you’d like to be known as the office Grinch. So there you are, an underpaid office worker who just got assigned to Cathy, the passive-aggressive accounts manager who works two cubicles over and is constantly sending you emails that begin with “Just FYI…”

In this most chilling of holiday situations, you have one of several options:

1) something thoughtful yet moderately priced, tailored to the recipient’s likes and interests;
2) something passive-aggressive, like fruitcake or highlighters;
3) something in between.

Enter David Sedaris. For those of you who don’t know it, David Sedaris first became known through his story “SantaLand Diaries,” about his experiences as a Macy’s store elf. “SantaLand Diaries” is, to put it lightly, the most fucking hilarious thing I’ve ever read. It is a paean to every member of the service industry that has ever dealt with raucous toddlers and their prickish parents. If you’ve never read “Santa Land Diaries,” you should do yourself a favor and listen to it first. Sedaris’ deadpan delivery of the various indignities vested on a Macy’s elf—from his elf name, Crumpet, to the teasing flirtations of young and fickle fellow elves, to the machinations of the various Santas to the detritus of humanity who wait in line for two hours to visit him. Somehow, even while dwelling in the cesspool of consumer behavior, the story even manages to include a cheery holiday ending (I mean, insofar as you regard the phrase a store manager calling a customer a fucking bitch the stuff of holiday cheer, which, if you’ve ever worked in retail, you probably do) .

The rest of the stories in the book are less pleasant. Other than “Dinah, the Christmas Whore,” which is as heartwarming a family tale as I’ve ever read, the rest of the Christmas tales trade in the more morbid fare where Sedaris seems most comfortable. Included in the mix is a Christmas letter from a housewife charged with infanticide and awaiting trial, the crabby mutterings of a burnt-out theatre critic about the state of grade school Christmas pageants (“in the role of Mary, six-year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin.”), and a Hollywood producer trying to convince a backwoods congregation to sell the rights to a rather gruesome local holiday miracle.

It’s this combination that makes Holidays On Ice such a perfect coworker gift, especially for those on whom your feelings lean toward dislike. Sedaris is a recognizable enough author and the cover artwork is cheery enough to seem, at first, like a considerate yet appropriately generic holiday gift for one’s colleagues. The first story is funny and spirited, which will leave them feeling heartened by the thoughtfulness of their gift. Then, when they get to the more disturbing stories, they’ll start to question it. By the time they get to the last story—a disturbing keeping-up-with-the-Joneses tale with a grisly ending—they’ll start giving everyone around them the side-eye, wondering what exactly who gave it to them and just what exactly their intentions were.

At this point, you will look at them, give them a long, creepy smile and say: “Did you enjoy the book?” Hold eye contact for just a few seconds too long.

And that is how you keep your coworkers on their toes.

Amurph11′s #CBR4 Reviews #38 and #39 – A Tale of Two Sedarises

“Sometimes the sins you haven’t committed are all you have left to hold onto.” ― David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames
“Like all of my friends, she’s a lousy judge of character.”― David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

Well, it’s December, and the holiday season has officially begun. In the Murphy household (read: the household in which I am the only resident), this means it’s time to start reading one of two things: Harry Potter or David Sedaris.

Yes, December is a time for tradition, and my tradition is to read about socially awkward young men with hidden talents (in the case of Harry Potter, magic, in the case of David Sedaris, witty self-deprecation). Which one I choose greatly depends on the outlook with which I have chosen to greet the holiday season. This year has found me in more of a Sedaris mood – make of that what you will.

I find David Sedaris to be one of the world’s most comforting writers, and these two collections are without a doubt my favorite of his entire catalogue. They both show off his greatest talent to its best possible effect: the rare ability to both attract and repel simultaneously. Sedaris has an unapologetic fascination with things that repulse ordinary people, and for that alone he is worthy of praise. For instance, one of the stories I have found myself returning to again and again involves the head of a guinea worm poking out of his mother-in-law’s leg (“It’s Catching”) – it’s a disgusting story, but for some reason it fills me with a reassurance that most people find from their actual mother. Another one finds him enlisting his longtime boyfriend’s help in lancing a boil just to the left of his crack, and it is, no kidding, one of the great love stories of our time.

Sedaris made his name off of the dysfunctional stories of his childhood and for good reason, but my favorites are always the stories that deal with the daily pratfalls of his current life. One of my all-time favorites, from When You Are Engulfed In Flames, involves a process that should be familiar to anyone who is the less functional member of a couple (incidentally, if you are reading this wondering which person in your relationship is less functional, it’s probably you). He decides, in a fit of pique, that he is done with his long-term relationship, and rehearses in his mind the speech with which he will break it off before realizing that his boyfriend is the one that does absolutely everything:

“Hugh takes care of all that. And when he’s out of town I eat like a wild animal, the meat still pink with hair or feathers clinging to it. So is it any wonder that he runs from me? No matter how angry I get, it always comes down to this: I am going to leave, and then what? Move in with my dad? Thirty minutes of pure rage, and when I finally spot him I realize that I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my life.”

Another place Sedaris shines is when he’s attempting to learn a language – by “shines” I am of course referring to his writing about the experience, and not his mastery of the languages themselves. Both of these books involve stories about Sedaris’ travails with foreign languages; the inspiration for the title of Me Talk Pretty One Day  was the series of fruitless attempts Sedaris made to learn French, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames involves a fantastic story about the time he moved to Japan to quit smoking and subsequently enrolled in Japanese class. Spoiler alert: he succeeds at quitting, and fails miserably at mastering anything beyond “konichiwa.”

Possibly the only thing better than when Sedaris is learning a language is when he’s offending random strangers. And my god, are there ever examples to choose from. The best is probably “Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle,” the tale of the epic battle between Sedaris and his seatmate on a flight to Raleigh. I’m not even going to explain it further, except to say that it involves, among other things, a misplaced lozenge.

Reading all of Sedaris’ books in a row gives a great overview of what an amazingly accomplished writer he is. Part of the beauty of shorter pieces, whether it be essay or short story, is that they give you more opportunities to hone your work. Personal essays seem deceptively easy when you’re not the one writing them; it’s only be seeing Sedaris’ progression from his first collection to his most recent that one can fully appreciate his mastery of the form. His stories become progressively shorter, tighter, and cleaner, without ever losing the pure infusion of personality, the honest assessment of his character deficiencies, and his brilliant sense of the absurd and the macabre.

But I digress. Chances are, you know all this already because you read one David Sedaris book and then immediately went out and read the rest. If you haven’t, then why are you even still reading this? Go fix it.

Recommended for: Weirdos

Read When: You’re begrudgingly entering a season dedicated to religious observance and familial tradition

Listen With: the audiobook versions of all his books.

 

 
 
 
 

ElCicco#CBR4Review#19: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson The Bloggess

I will confess that I do not follow The Bloggess,aka Jenny Lawson. I found out about her because some Facebook friends posted a link to her blog entry “And That’s Why You Should Learn to Pick Your Battles,” about a large metal chicken named Beyonce. It was hilarious and so I checked The Bloggess’s web site (www.thebloggess.com). I saw that Lawson had a book coming out (including the Beyonce story), and I bought it based on the one essay I had read. If you like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, Lawson should be on your reading list. Like them, Lawson’s focus is often on her dysfunctional family, highlighting the warts but written with great humor and love. She also writes unflinchingly about her own struggles with anxiety and OCD but never loses the funny. It’s an amazing feat, in my opinion.

This is a great book for quotes — pretty much every page had some witty/snarky/hilarious comment on an outrageously unbelievable but mostly true event in her life. “The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door” is about Lawson’s attempt at a colon cleanse using excessive amounts of Ex-Lax. According to Lawson, “…there would have been no way to maintain the sensual mystery of womanhood if anyone had heard the noises coming from that bathroom.” The chapter on her 15 years in Human Resources,”The Dark and Disturbing Secrets HR Doesn’t Want you to Know,” is especially rich in hilarity. Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “Choosing to work in HR is like choosing to work in the complaint department in hell, except way more frustrating, because at least in hell you’d be able to agree that Satan is a real dick-wagon without having to toe the company line.”
  • “…HR is the only department actively paid to look at porn.”
  • “…sometimes you get brought in for an interview just to settle a bet.”

Lawson kept a notebook about the most interesting cases that crossed her desk over the 15 years, which involved a surprisingly large number of penis photographs being emailed or left in the office printer.

Taxidermy is a running theme throughout the book. Lawson’s father has a taxidermy business and once presented his daughters with a genuine dead squirrel puppet. Lawson has some unusual “stuffed pets” of her own including a boar’s head named James Garfield, an alligator named Jean Louise and a mouse, Hamlet von Schnitzel, who is featured on the book’s cover. [I still haven't figured out how to put a picture in my reviews. I tried very hard to include the cover with Hamlet von Schnitzel.]

Even truly sad experiences, such as miscarriages, the death of her dog and her struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and OCD, include some humor. Lawson describes the agony and terror of attending dinner parties where she would hide in the bathroom due to anxiety. This might seem surprising as you read her intelligent and witty blogs, but she explains, “…I can actually come across as reasonably witty and coherent in e-mail, because I have time to think about what a normal, filtered, mentally stable adult would write before I press ‘Send.’” Real life/real time situations are a very different matter. Here is her description of what an anxiety attack feels like:

“I feel the panic build up like a lion caught in my chest, clawing its way out of my throat. I try to hold it back but my dinner mates can sense something has changed…. I vainly hope they’ll [people on the street who see her after she flees the scene] assume I’m just drunk, but I know they know. Every wild-eyed glance of mine screams, MENTAL ILLNESS.” When her friends or husband of 15 years Victor find her, she won’t talk and they assume it’s because she is embarrassed, but she writes, “I keep my mouth closed tightly because I don’t know whether I could stop myself from screaming if I opened my mouth.” This is a serious, honest depiction of  what must be a traumatizing experience, and yet later in the chapter, Lawson is able to inject the humor again. After a particularly disastrous dinner party experience, she says, “…Victor made me leave, swearing to never take me to another dinner party again. It was hard to argue with him, but I did point out that the party was kind of a win, because no one saw my vagina. Victor says we have different definitions of what a ‘win’ is.”

I especially love Lawson’s Epilogue, in which she looks back over her life so far and writes “…you are not defined by life’s imperfect moments but by your reaction to them.” She is an excellent example of this, and she recognizes the importance of her family and friends in helping her through the imperfections. 

I would like to finish by declaring that I initially felt weird reviewing a book by a popular blogger whose blog I’d never read , but I now feel that by buying the book instead of reading the blog, I am a better Bloggess fan. Some might argue that those who have followed the blog religiously, Tweeted with her, and provided fodder for her writing are better. But I bought her book. That’s money in her pocket. And I bought it on my Kindle which means I can’t even share it with anyone. If you want to read it (and you should), you’ll have to go buy it your own damn self. You’re welcome, Jenny Lawson.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #02: David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

I admit from the outset that this book was my holiday gift to myself and I went in planning on loving it. And I do love it, but not the way one loves their favorite pair of shoes or a brand new laptop. I love it like you love a cousin you haven’t seen in a few years but who gave you your first tequila shot when you were severely underage.

Don’t look at me like that, I stand by the analogy.

I love Sedaris’ style. I love his dry wit and the variously interesting ways in which he gets around to the point of his stories. Even though I know there’s likely a twist coming, I rarely if ever am able to call it. I love that his books are generally collections of short stories, something that I don’t always appreciate in other authors. I even like that he is adventurous in style choices. Sometimes his books are memoir, sometimes its first person narrative fiction, and this time it’s a riff on fables.

Yep, fables. Although to be fair Sedaris refers to the book as “A Modest Bestiary”.

And that may be the reason why I am not puppy dog in love with this outing as I have been by previous Sedaris books. Even though the animal protagonists are very obviously based on people who live in the world around us, I couldn’t always invest in them. There are standouts in the book to be sure, but I’d say I was most disappointed by the title pair. There just wasn’t a lot to love in the chapter about a squirrel and a chipmunk’s forbidden love and a misunderstanding about jazz.

 There is quite a bit of social commentary to be had, each new chapter with its new animal protagonists there is a new topic tackled, a new insight aimed for. My favorites include “The Motherless Bear” where an overly needy and selfish bear receives her comeuppance and “The Faithful Setter” following the travails of a dog about town. Certainly I felt the stories got stronger as the book, at a mere 120 pages or so, continued.  Also, the illustrations by Ian Falconer are both adorable and hilarious in equal measure.

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