As a rule, when authors read their own books, I am not a fan, however, since Sedaris presents his stories on stage regularly, he is an expert at the reading of his book. His presentation is spot on, with just the right amount of inflection in his tone to present his subtle interjection of humor into the most unexpected subjects where one would not ever expect to laugh.
I was not happy with all of the pieces presented since some were raunchier than I prefer. Still, because the foul language and inappropriate references were peppered throughout, it was not heavy handed. The sprinkling of vulgarity did not become overpowering. In some ways, he reminds me of Stephen Wright, a deadpan comedian that can make you laugh out loud, surprising yourself, when his meaning hits you, catching you off guard.
As Sedaris talks about the most mundane subjects, across the spectrum of joy and grief, pride and shame, guilt and innocence, the reader can’t help but chuckle under ones’ breath or right out loud.
Many of the pieces in the book have already been published or presented on stage, but for me, they were new experiences. As he describes his homosexuality, his relationships with various friends and family, his acknowledgment of middle age, his father’s aging, his mother’s death, his sister’s suicide, his various health crises, the readers will notice their feelings riding the rollercoaster of emotions. All of his subjects bring his stories into their reality. All will eventually, or will already, have had to deal with the range of life’s journeys that he describes with all of the varied thoughts and sensations they cause.
When he describes himself as very mischievous, even rebellious and perhaps a troubled, insecure young man, his struggles becomes universal. He grew up in a world that did not completely accept or acknowledge him, nor did it deal openly with the problems he faced. So many subjects enter into his tales. Some, like politics, addiction, death, and mental illness will make you wonder that you are even laughing at such a subject. Beach vacations, the care of various wildlife and meal preparation will more naturally touch your heart and funny bone. Even capitalism enters some of his stories as he describes how proud he is to have a home with a guest room, his idea of the pinnacle of material achievement.
Having just finished Zadie Smith’s book of essays, “Feel Free”, this was almost a culture shock. Where her subjects are incredibly intellectual and require a slow reading, his are easy to listen to and can be described as emotional. Where hers encourage thought, his encourage feeling, but both have redeeming features as one instructs the reader and the other offers the reader a catharsis. Both, however, present a philosophy of life that is worth contemplating further. We all grow old; we all have to deal with disappointment; we all have to deal with life and hopefully find a way to happily muddle through.