Calypso by David Sedaris

I have one expectation with a David Sedaris book and it is this–to laugh out loud while reading it, possibly in public and unable to stop.
Expectation met!
Even though my husband was all “oh I already read most of the stories in The New Yorker” I never read the New Yorker and they were all new to me. So there. Pretty much every store made me laugh out loud at something-I just love the things he says, the way he writes. But in this collection I also found a certain sweetness or poignancy. Although you can tell that events in stories span a few years by references to his niece’s age, most of the stories are about his whole family being together at the beach house he and Hugh bought in South Carolina. (I suppose reading them all together, rather than spaced out in the magazine makes it all seem like everything happens in one year.) There’s always been stuff about his family, but his youngest sister’s suicide is what really brings out the stories about how much he and his siblings really get each other and love each other, how much they loved their mother, and how they are with his now pretty elderly father. They’re a weird and funny family and I love reading about them.

I probably laughed the most reading about the Japanese stores he and his sisters can’t resist shopping at.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

We saw David Sedaris live the other night and he was a hoot.  The only book of his we don’t have is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, so we picked it up after the reading to have it autographed. Alas, the line was too long and we had a babysitter waiting at home, so we took our book and left.

This book is very different from his others-all the stories are featuring animal characters (with very human lives).

The stories are pretty sick and disturbed, with a dark humor to them, imbuing the animal characters with human traits, which are seamlessly combined with their animal traits and instincts.

For example, in the Judicious Brown Chicken, a hen sees her sister killed after the sister has revealed lesbian tendencies. She assumes that there is a cause and effect there and continues to assume when any animal dies that it is because of a characteristic they exhibited.  So she’s like a person, but all the animals are dying in the way of the farmyard-hawk, snake, etc.

In another story a mouse steals baby animals to feed to a snake, and then is confronted by those animals’ mothers, seeking their lost children.

In the Parrot and the Potbellied Pig, though, the animals are more like animal characters in a people world (the parrot is a journalist.)

The animals don’t wear human clothes, but they talk.  And they talk a lot and say crazy human type things. They have neuroses, are alcoholics, come from dysfunctional families, and more.

I liked The Grieving Owl the best-this is one of the stories where the animal-human world is just like it really is, except the animals talk and have very human conversations.  This owl’s mate has died and he can’t stand his lazy and stupid family.  He has taken to getting information from potential prey (I won’t kill if you can tell me something interesting) because he delights in knowledge and learning about the world. When a rat tells him that there is a kind of leech that lives only in the anus of a hippopotamus he takes off to the zoo to meet Lois (that’s my slave name), the hippo.  By the way, all these stories have little illustrations by Ian Falconer, of the Olivia picture books fame.  Beware, Olivia fans! These illustrations have the charm of Olivia mixed with the grotesque details of the story. So imagine how this particular story is illustrated!


When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

If you like David Sedaris then you like him, and if you don’t, well then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Apparently you have no sense of humor. One criticism I read of this latest collection of essays is that if you like David Sedaris you’ve probably already read most of them because they were already published in The New Yorker, Esquire, or This American Life. As it happens only a few of them were already familiar to me (and I gladly reread them.)

I think it is impossible to read Sedaris’s stuff without hearing him in your head. My favorite bits are when he talks about Hugh, who clearly is a saint to put up with David, and when he talks about his siblings. And I can’t get over that he quite smoking by moving to Hong Kong for three months. All I could think was “wow you have a lot of money and an extremely flexible lifestyle.”