It’s a book like these that might make the average reader think, “Gee, this looks easy. Maybe I could write a book and become rich and famous too!” And I agree, it does “look” easy, but this is only because David Sedaris is so good at his job.
So, before you decide to quit your day job and write a collection of essays to be published and enjoyed by all the world, you have to ask yourself some questions.
These questions would have to include: Am I funny? Do funny and bizarre things often happen to me? Did I always keep a diary, so that I can still remember the name the girl who sat next to me in 9th grade? Will the people in my life, including family and friends, allow me to reveal their deepest secrets for the whole world to laugh at? Can I share some of my most embarrassing moments? And more importantly, can I turn that personal mortification into something that readers can enjoy?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, close your laptop and quit dreaming of becoming the next David Sedaris. He is the true champion of the humorous autobiographical story and these 22 essays represent him in his prime.
Although the book is a bit uneven – not every single essay is milk-coming-out-your-nose funny – it shows Sedaris’ confidence in his storytelling ability. He feels assured enough to often bring the reader through an unlikely chain of association, and as often as not, bring it all back together again.
For example, he begins one story at his house in the French countryside at mid-morning. Sadly for him, the town officials, as they do from time to time, have shut off the water unannounced. Now, each time this happens, Sedaris is faced with the awful conundrum of needing coffee to think, but needing to think in order to make coffee when he has no water.
This leads to the sleepy consideration of using wine, day-old tea and even the water in the vase of flowers his partner gave him the day before. I won’t give away which option he chooses, but rest assured, you won’t be able to look at vase-water the same again.
But from this inauspicious morning in France, he takes the reader on a journey to unexpected places – buying drugs from a fighting couple in a mobile home in rural North Carolina, to an encounter with a well-dressed couple on a plane whose language would make a sailor blush. All of these associations are done with so much ease and wit, that it almost hides the skill and quality of writing.
The last quarter of the book was easily the most enjoyable for me. Sedaris takes us with him on his trip to Japan. Now, why would Sedaris travel to Japan you ask? Well, to quit smoking of course!
Sedaris cheerfully recounts his all the significant episodes in his life connected to smoking. The telling of his grade school trip to a tobacco factory, where they handed out free packs to the kids was a memorable one. But as much as Sedaris loved his cigarettes, his love of clean and luxury hotels – which in recent years have gone increasingly smoke-free – led to him making the difficult choice to quit smoking.
And as anyone who has read Sedaris before knows, he lacks will power. And as anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows, will power is what you need to quit. So, to help himself, Sedaris reads as many self-help books as he can and one of them recommended that changing your routine is one of the best ways to break the terrible nicotine habit.
Sedaris concludes that there is no better way to change your routine than to move to a foreign land, and about a week after he decides, he and his partner head for the land of the rising sun.
His time in Japan plays out directly from his dairy. He takes us with him from the moment of landing, all through his three-month stay in Tokyo. His battle to quit smoking, learn some of the language and conform to some of the rules and customs of Japanese society – all at the same time – provide the best this book has to offer.
So, in closing, for all you prospective writers out there, save your energy and quit dreaming. I recommend you simply enjoy a master storyteller tell masterful stories.