Read (not so) recently: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Read (not so) recently: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Title: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Published in 2000 by Little, Brown and Co.
Read sometime in 2007 and then July 2010
Recommended by: The staff at Chapters as a gift for me

Synopsis from Publisher’s Weekly:

Sedaris is Garrison Keillor’s evil twin: like the Minnesota humorist, Sedaris focuses on the icy patches that mar life’s sidewalk, though the ice in his work is much more slippery and the falls much more spectacularly funny than in Keillor’s. Many of the 27 short essays collected here (which appeared originally in the New Yorker, Esquire and elsewhere) deal with his father, Lou, to whom the book is dedicated.

Sedaris also writes here about the time he spent in France and the difficulty of learning another language. After several extended stays in a little Norman village and in Paris, Sedaris had progressed, he observes, “from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. ‘Is thems the thoughts of cows?’ I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window.” But in English, Sedaris is nothing if not nimble: in one essay he goes from his cat’s cremation to his mother’s in a way that somehow manages to remain reverent to both of the departed. “Reliable sources” have told Sedaris that he has “tended to exhaust people,” and true to form, he will exhaust readers of this new book, too – with helpless laughter.

The good:

Sedaris’s stories are funny, intelligent, and dysfunctional. With writing both fresh and bitter, his semi-fictionalized personal snapshots put on display the horrifying, embarrassing, self-doubting, uncomfortable, and ultimately triumphant moments in his life. I predict you’ll be amused. And if you somehow fail to see parallels of yourself in some of his experiences, you’ve led a more charmed life than me.

The bad:

I can’t think of any reason not to read it. Maybe it won’t be to your taste, but don’t you take that risk with every book you choose?

The other:

The first time I read this book I flew through it. It felt light and humorous and not particularly memorable. The second time I read Me Talk Pretty One Day was a totally different experience. Jay and I were on a road trip. During a fourteen-hour driving day covering the blandest part of the Prairies, I chose to flip off the radio and read this book aloud. (Me Talk Pretty One Day – and really all of Sedaris’s oeuvre – benefit hugely from being read aloud. It allows the reader to pick up on the rhythm and timing of Sedaris’ comedic precision.) While reading the essay from which the title was plucked, Jay and I were laughing so much we were ugly crying. We nearly crashed.

Ever since, Sedaris has been Jay’s favourite author. Of the 15 books in our house that we say belong to Jay, three are by Sedaris.

Jay’s bookshelf, in no particular order:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Leather by David Sedaris
– Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling three books
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Anchorboy by Jay Onrait
Kings of the Rings: 125 Years of the World’s Biggest Bonspiel by Sean Grassie
The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester
– two investing books
– a couple of childhood favourites

Not a bad selection, actually. For an accountant.

I got the chance to meet Sedaris when he was on a book tour for Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. Note: I don’t really care if fiction authors are likeable – but autobiography relies on building an affinity with the author/protagonist, and disliking him in person would tarnish his stories for me. I’m relieved to report that he’s almost precisely as charming and awkward in person as he is on paper (and presumably on the radio, although honestly American public radio is not part of my life). I couldn’t think of anything witty to say when he signed my book, but he wrote a flattering message anyway.

As always:

If you’re a friend, I’ll lend it to you. If you’re not, please visit one of your charming, musty, local libraries. If you want to own it for yourself, try your hardest to go to a bookstore – it’s half the fun.

S.E. Lund