At first I was worried when I got David Sedaris's new book Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls in at the library--it looked thick! But then I laughed when I remembered I had requested one of the library's large print copies, because the hold list seemed shorter for that than for the regular copies. (Older folks with vision impairment not being Sedaris's target audience, perhaps?) Every now and then I enjoy a large print book--you flip pages at the speed of light, seemingly.
As to the content of the book? Well, Sedaris's essays are always somewhat delightfully surreal, but in this latest volume, I'm starting to feel like he's phoning them in a little bit. They just don't have the tightly constructed feel they used to (or that I feel David Rakoff's essays had, right up to his untimely death). I particularly didn't like his essays written in other personas--from the point of view of a religious fundamentalist, for example--although there weren't many of them. Just when I was thinking I wouldn't finish the collection, though, I came upon the essay titled "Now Hiring Friendly People," about Sedaris's experiences just trying to buy a cup of coffee in a hotel coffee bar, and getting stuck behind a couple taking up lots of the coffee bar worker's time and energy:
"...just as I decided to get a cup of coffee, someone came from around the corner and moved in ahead of me.
I'd later learn that her name was Mrs. Dunston, a towering, dough-colored pyramid of a woman wearing oversize glasses and a short-sleeved linen blazer. Behind her came a man I guessed to be her husband, and after looking up at the menu board, she turned to him. 'A latte,' she said. 'Now is that the thing Barbara likes to get, the one with whipped cream, or is that called something else?'
Oh fuck, I thought." (p. 344, large print edition.) And a bit later in the same encounter:
"The Dunstons' bill came to eight dollars, which, everyone agreed, was a lot to pay for two cups of coffee. But they were large ones, and this was a vacation, sort of. Not like a trip to Florida, but you certainly couldn't do that at the drop of a hat, especially with gas prices the way they are and looking to go even higher.
While talking, Mrs. Dunston rummaged through her tremendous purse. Her wallet was eventually located, but then it seemed that the register was locked, so the best solution was to put the coffees on her bill." (p. 350.)
I laughed so many times during this essay; Sedaris has the mundane conversation and all the details just right, right down to the short-sleeved linen blazer and the tremendous purse. He is very, very good at describing others' conversation, particularly in service situations (which is why his early piece about working as a Christmas elf in a department store was such a tour de force). For me, this one essay really made the whole book.*
So is it his best collection? Not really. Is there still quite a bit of fun, readable stuff here? Absolutely.
*Although I also loved his essay on how he keeps notebooks/journals/diaries and has for a long, long time, and how he uses them in his writing (including indexing key parts of them, which of course totally melts my geeky indexing heart).