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February 2011

Read this one along with Griftopia.

Paul Clemens's new nonfiction book, Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant, was not at all what I expected.

Punching From its subtitle, I expected this would be an investigative narrative in which Clemens somehow got a job in an auto plant right before it closed. I was wrong--Clemens was in the auto plant (the Budd Company, in Detroit) after it was already closed; he witnessed the disassembly of the massive machinery that used to be used to stamp out auto parts. Not only did he watch the machinery come down; he also watched it get packed and shipped out to plants across the world where such stamping work could be done more cheaply.

I was not alone in my confusion re: the book's subtitle. And I was a bit taken aback by the prologue and the first chapter, which seemed a bit too detailed and technical for me ("Where there is no die in a press, as is the case in a closed stamping plant, a straight-side stamping press forms an arch..."). But somewhere along the way I became enthralled by this title, sad as it was. I particularly enjoyed Clemens's interactions with a former plant worker turned security guard for the rigging company (the company taking down the large equipment) named Eddie, as well as with the various rigging workers and even the plant's former Union representative (these workers don't really appear in the narrative until page 90, which is when the book came more alive for me).

As Clemens himself points out in the Daily Show interview I posted last week, his book doesn't really have a larger theme. He learns about the history of the Budd plant, he watches it get dismantled, he hears some of the plant's history from former workers and explores it with its current skeleton staff, and he even makes the journey to Mexico to see where some of the plant's equipment ends up. And that is all. And that's enough. Because here's what got me: the subtitle made me think this would be yet another narrative about jobs going, which would have been sad enough. But the quiet genius of this book, and of Clemens's quiet observation, is that the jobs are already GONE.

It's not an expose, it's an elegy.* Read it, along with Matt Taibbi's Griftopia, and you'll probably have a pretty accurate picture of where the country's at.

*I was really proud of myself for coming up with this word, and then I saw it's how they described it over at Powell's, too. Originality, thy name is Citizen Reader.

A word from Wisconsin.

For those of you who watch the news, you've probably been seeing some stories about my home state and our governor's bid to, hell, I don't even know what he's all trying to do. Take away collective bargaining rights from state worker unions, and also privatize the state's power plants (read Matt Taibbi's Griftopia if you want to see how that sort of thing turns out), etc. etc. Here's how I'm going to nutshell it: he wants to pull a whole bunch of shit that he acts like will save the state money, when we all know it won't, and it'll all probably end up costing more money, and he's just a big jerk politician like all the rest of them, looking to hook up his friends with sweet gigs and maybe get a little national publicity for himself.

I'm not going to get into it any further, as this is not a political blog, and I don't know enough about anything that's going on to comment.* The older I get the more I see the wisdom of Matt Groening's Life Is Hell cartoon books, in which someone is always saying "mistakes were made." This is largely how I feel about politics these days, and our country in general. Mistakes have been made, by unions and management and state and national governments and individuals alike.**

Already this is too long a lead-in to what I really want to talk about: Paul Clemens's quiet little book Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant.

I love Paul Clemens, and have ever since I stumbled across his superlative memoir, Made in Detroit. So when I saw this new book, I got super excited, because my favorite nonfiction authors only write so many books, and a new one is always exciting. (Come on, William Langewiesche and Tom Bissell--get writing!) I also thought this one was going to be an investigative work on actually working in a closing auto plant, and was eager to read Clemens's take on the labor situation.

What I got was something much different. And this post is too long already, so let's adjourn until next week--I'll actually try to get the book itself reviewed for Monday's post. In the meantime, do your homework: watch this clip of Clemens talking on The Daily Show.

*I try to be informed--as a former librarian, of course, my work almost always depended on government largesse--so I've read some articles, and I've read enough books now to have a pretty good idea of what's going on nationally. But still: the more I learn, the less I realize I know, and the less I want to shout out what little I know. Hence my ambivalence toward the protests.***

**Actually, my favorite article about the whole fiasco has been the one in which it was pointed out that no one knows how much all the extra cop hours are going to cost, and who's going to pay them. Now THAT's how democracy works, baby!

***Don't yell at me. I've protested in my time, and it never goes well. Personally or in the larger scope of things.

What to get the reader who has everything.

I'm so sorry I missed these two books in the weeks before all the big winter holidays; they would have made great gifts. Need birthday gifts (or late Valentine's gifts?) for any readers you know? I'd like to suggest a couple of titles.

Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read, by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark,* is one of those fantastic readers' guides that is almost as fun to read as many of the books its authors suggest. In various sections on love, memoir, family, history, politics, humor, work and money, war, religion, and death (you can see they've covered all the bases), the authors list books you should read, histories of and book-group-ready questions about those books, and lists of other related titles you might like. They also do all this, bless them, in a witty way. This is how their section on "Love" opens:

"O love! How manifold are your stings! How versatile your applications! Love is sweet and bitter, pungent and cloying, brittle and squishy, in and out. In Saudi Arabia, they stone you to death for it. Meanwhile, in France, it is compulsory for third graders...

These twelve books will clarify (or inspire) the misadventures in your own life. At the very least, they will show you that--however bizarre, wonderful, sordid, or humiliating your experience--you are not alone." (p. 3.)*

Another great "books about books" title out there is Books: The Essential Insider's Guide (City Secrets), edited by Mark Strand. It's actually part of the "City Secrets" series of guide books, but instead of learning a city's secrets, you learn the secrets of literature. In this book authors such as Oscar Hijuelos, Calvin Trillin, Adriana Trigiani, and many others offer short essays on forgotten or little-known books they think you should read. And the titles! Wonderful. I've never heard of any of them. (Examples: The Armada, by Garrett Mattingly; Black Milk: Poems, by Tory Dent; Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.) Truly a book for the person who thinks they've read everything. And it's very aesthetically pleasing, too; with thick, glossy paper, and not one but TWO little ribbon bookmarks already attached to the spine. Lovely.

*Titles they suggest on "Love" include Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert; Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan; and Marriage: A History (nonfiction!) by Stephanie Coontz.

*Thanks to Stacy Horn, at whose great blog I first read about this book.

Tuesday Article: Powell's workers

Border's isn't the only bookstore having problems; Powell's is laying off workers as well. What amazes me about today's article is how positive some of the people who have just been shit-canned* still are about books. I salute these people.

Oh, and go check out the Survival of the Book blog; in particular, if you need a laugh (a laugh based on "ha ha that's sad," but a laugh nonetheless), watch some of the videos they've been posting there.

*Any copyeditors out there? "Shit-canned" or "shitcanned" or "shit canned"? Yes, I know I could check or get my ass out of my chair and consult my own 11th edition of Webster's Collegiate dictionary, but it's more fun to ask.

A girl can dream, can't she?

If I had world enough and time, I would take the book London Lore: The Legends and Traditions of the World's Most Vibrant City (by Steve Roud) into a room with me, my fuzzy red throw blanket, and some coffee and bon-bons, and never come out. And I'd like to do this during a month like we're currently having: way too much snow and ridiculously cold.*

Lore Roud shares tidbits of history and legend from every nook and cranny in London--and I do mean every one. It's a thick book, with dense printing, organized so that each chapter covers a different borough and is further subdivided according to its stories, with headings like "Cock Lane, Smithfield." I read a bit of the first chapter ("Cock Lane is an inconspicuous, narrow thoroughfare, off Giltspur Street, Smithfield, which suddenly acquired international fame in 1762 when a house in the road became the scene of one of the best-known hauntings in London's history..."), but the sad fact of the matter is that I'm not going to have time to read the whole thing, and truthfully, it just reminds me I'm not IN London and therefore makes me sad.

But I have a plan! Not to put too much pressure on CRjr or anything, but I have this dream that during college he'll study abroad for a year--at Oxford! And while he does Mr. CR and I will move to London for six months, to be able to see him once in a while and to take an extended look around ourselves!! And then I can take this book along and have time to explore with it. Right? It'll totally happen, right?**

*Cold is one thing, but next week our forecasted highs are set to be several degrees below the normal LOWS for this time of year. And we've got so much snow (yes, yes, I know, still nothing compared to what the East coast has been getting this winter) that backing blindly out of our driveway between the monster drifts/snow piles on each side has become a suicide mission.

**I know it'll never happen. For one thing CRjr probably won't be able to afford college anywhere (have you seen how fast tuition is going up these days?), much less Oxford, and for another, he may grow up to find someplace like, say, France, more interesting than Great Britain.*** But I can still dream.

***This is the sort of thing I worry about, to keep myself from worrying about his health and peer pressure and other mundane crap like that.

Being Ariel Leve.

About a third of the way through Ariel Leve's essay collection It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me, I still couldn't decide if I was liking it or not. At first I thought it was a little, well, a little too over-the-top "woe is me." (I just couldn't get myself to feel too bad for a woman who splits her time between New York City and London, and who is making a living as a writer.)

Leve But somewhere in the middle of her essays she started to charm me. Leve is a journalist and writes for The Sunday Times Magazine, The Guardian, and other publications, so I'm not sure if these are pieces from a column or what; here, they're organized into thematic sections like "Getting through the Day," "Personality Defects," "Health Concerns," and "Not a Fan." They're deceptively easy--she'll take you along on a perfectly valid rant for a couple of pages, and then she'll throw in a last zinger of a paragraph that just wins you over. By the time I was done with the book I was sorry it was over.

I didn't have bookmarks handy where I was reading this one (an aside, for no reason: would it ever be acceptable to have a bookshelf in the bathroom? Or does that strike people as unhygienic?), so I'm just flipping through now and will share a couple of her asides--a lot of which made me feel very close to her. Consider:

On the week between Christmas and New Year's: "No-one expects any work to get done, the streets are empty, the pressure is off. Changing out of my pyjamas feels like an accomplishment." (p. 101.)

On going out: "Getting older has rewards. Behaviour that was once unacceptable is becoming what's expected. For instance, when I was twenty-five and wanted to stay home on a Saturday night, everyone thought I was a loser. My friends would nag me to join them: 'C'mon, you're young. Live it up!' I tried to explain I was barely interested in living. What makes them think I'd be interested in living it up?" (p. 107.)

Here's the truest thing I've read in a long time: "People say you live and learn, but sometimes that's not the case. Sometimes you just live. And keep going. Or what you do learn you forget." (p. 159.)

And here was something on low-maintenance and high-maintenance women that someone should have shared with Mr. CR before we got hitched: "A low-maintenance groomer with a high-maintenance personality is not considered a catch." (p. 252.)

I could go on, but you get my point. Actually, the back-cover* copy of this one gives a good clue to its contents. Does this make you laugh (after inwardly cringing, because it's what you do to?): "If someone tells her everything will be okay, she asks: How do you know?'" It made me laugh. That's what I ALWAYS think first when someone tells me everything will be okay.

*Speaking of the cover, you can't tell in the horrible graphic I've used, but in the stock photo on the cover of this one the person covering their head with a pillow is wearing a ring on their left ring finger, which bothered me, as Leve is clearly not married. Yes, I am demanding about my book covers. Find a different stock photo!

Color me unimpressed.

I've never quite understood the appeal of author Oliver Sacks.

This started in college, when I knew several people who had to read his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat for their psychology classes, and just raved about it. I picked it up and thought it was completely boring, and although I continue to look at every new book he publishes, I still haven't found one that does anything for me.

Sacks This has been the case again with his latest title, The Mind's Eye. It's yet another collection of medical oddity stories, culled from Sacks's life and work as a doctor and professor of neurology and psychiatry. I only read the first two chapters, so perhaps I shouldn't say anything. But the fact remains that I just don't understand why this guy is a bestselling nonfiction author. I find his writing so dry:

"In contrast to these severe visual problems, her speech comprehension, repetition, and verbal fluency were all normal. An MRI of her brain was also normal, but when a PET scan was performed--this can detect slight changes in the metabolism of different brain areas, even when they appear anatomically normal--Lilian was found to have diminished metabolic activity in the posterior part of the brain, the visual cortex." (p. 7.)

God. If I wanted to hear something a) depressing, and b) expressed in a lot of words I didn't understand and feared, I'd just go to the doctor myself. In the case study above he is referring to a musician who was losing her ability to read music (or words, for that matter). And that's all this first chapter is: describing this poor woman's degenerative neurological condition. In these books I keep expecting Dr. Sacks to be able to help these people he's describing, but it never really seems like he does--he always just seems there to report on these phenomena. Blah. Too depressing for me by half.

Another Athill moment.

Was I successful in my plan to make you desire to read anything by Diana Athill?

If you'll remember, I've been reviewing (and loving) some of her books here. The last one I talked about was her work memoir, Stet: An Editor's Life, and I shared one long quote from it.

Well, there was another quote I liked, but the book had to go back to the library, and so I decided to type the quote in a draft post so I could keep it. So then I thought, why not just publish the draft, and you can get another little dose of Athill? The following quote came from near the end of Stet, when she's describing a recent visit to a publisher's office:

"I have just visited one: the first time in seven years that I have set foot in a publisher's office. It astonished me: how familiar it was, the way I knew what was happening behind its doors...and how much I loved it. 'It's still there!' I said to myself; and on the way home I saw that by 'it' I meant not only publishing of a kind I recognized, but something even more reassuring: being young. Old people don't want to mop and mow, but age has a blinkering effect, and their narrowed field of vision often contains things that are going from bad to worse; it is therefore consoling to be reminded that much exists outside that narrow field, just as it did when we were forty or thirty or twenty." (pp. 248-249.)

This year, I'd like Diana Athill to be my valentine. Happy VD* to you--now go hug a loved one or something else suitably sappy.

*I have never stopped being amused that this day shares initials with "venereal disease." That's just the super-mature way I roll.

All dressed up and nowhere to go.

I really, really enjoyed Alain de Botton's book A Week at the Airport.

Airport The book is based on such an enjoyably weird premise that I couldn't help but be charmed by it. De Botton, best known for his nonfiction books How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy, and The Art of Travel, was invited by one of the owners of the newly refurbished Heathrow Airport* to hang around the airport and its connecting hotel for a week and write a book about the experience, as a sort of airport "writer in residence."

The result is a slim narrative divided into the sections of Approach, Departures, Airside, and Arrivals; and containing fantastic photographs by Richard Baker.** De Botton describes the airport, shares the stories of travelers and airport workers he interviewed, and muses a bit on the nature of travel and transience in our modern world. As always, his text is just a little bit full of itself ("The mighty steel bracing of the airport's ceiling recalled the scaffolding of the great nineteenth-century railway stations, and evoked the sense of awe--suggested in paintings such as Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare--that must have been experienced by the first crowds to step inside these light-filled, iron-limbed halls pullulating with strangers, buildings that enabled a person to sense viscerally, rather than just grasp intellectually, the vastness and diversity of humanity"), but his text isn't what I really enjoy de Botton for. I really just enjoy his ideas and the way his prose is a little bit ridiculous but still does a great job of making you feel you're in the situation he's describing.

So yeah, I liked it. Mainly I liked it because just looking at it made me remember the few airports I've had the good luck to visit,*** and the excitement I felt at being there and going on trips. I'll never forget Mr. CR's and my first morning in London--we got off the plane at Heathrow and stumbled our way, exhausted, to the attached Underground station to King's Cross, where we were going to have to catch a train for our five-hour ride to Edinburgh (on pretty much no sleep, mind you). Before we got on the subway we popped up to a surface exit where we could use the restroom, and London was waking up, with the sky just lightening, traffic starting to move, a bit of a brisk nip in the fall air, and airport and Underground workers taking a smoke break. It was all so different and sensually overpowering and I felt so untethered, what with being off my home continent and all. And I felt ALL of that again when I read this book. Fantastic.

*in London, England, another reason I was destined to like this book. And: it's only 107 pages long. Sweet!

**I love his photography, and it makes the book so much more enjoyable. Tons more adult nonfiction books should include pictures or photographs.

***I LOVE airports. I'd feel differently about them if I had to travel for a living, but once I had to kill like five hours by myself in the Detroit airport, and rarely have I had such fun.

Not sure what all the fuss is about...quite literally.

One of the biggest nonfiction titles last year in terms of buzz and sales was Geneen Roth's Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything.

Roth This was, of course, because it was an Oprah title. And although I am no fan of Oprah or her book choices, I realized in January that I was eating some leftover Christmas cookies not because I was hungry or even peckish, but rather because I was bored and antsy. So I thought, well, maybe this book will have something to say about eating to fill holes other than one's stomach.*

So, because I knew I probably wasn't going to have the interest to read the whole thing, I did that type of nonfiction reading I do when I want to get the basics of a book but don't necessarily want to read every line of it: I kind of skim-read it for a while. But, honestly, I made it to page 62, and I still have no idea what Roth is saying, or what the point of her book is. The book jacket tells me that Roth posits that "the way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive."** Well, okay. But trust me: that doesn't exactly make for compelling storytelling. As far as I can tell, Roth's claim to fame is gaining and losing more than a thousand pounds over her lifetime, and now she teaches seminars basically telling women to lose weight by stopping trying to lose weight. There's a lot of sentences like this:

"When I first meet people who come to my retreat, I see those same beliefs funneled through the relationship with food. As if punishing themselves with dietary rigors will make up for something inherently damaged, fundamentally wrong with their very existence. Being thin becomes The Test. Losing weight becomes their religion." (p. 63.)

Okay. There's nothing wrong with that. I can support a woman who just wants us to have a normal relationship with our food as food. It's just that this book isn't particularly interesting, or personal, or helpful. I've skimmed the whole thing now and about the best line I can find to nutshell it for you is on page 161: "eat what your body wants when you're hungry, stop when you've had enough." The rest of it just seems like a big ad for Geneen Roth Retreats or seminars or whatever.

*I do plenty of eating when I AM hungry and/or peckish, and I am hungry a lot, so I really can't afford to start eating when I'm not hungry if I ever want to fit back into my pre-CRjr fat jeans.***

**I'll buy this. I eat candy, chocolate, and cookies like one of my core beliefs is that someday they won't exist any more. Or, more likely with this economy, I won't be able to afford them any more.

***You read that right. I'm still not even back in my previous FAT jeans. So sad. I don't weigh all that much more, it's just that stuff has...shifted. Sigh.

Get your Groupon on.

Well, today I thought I'd try something a little different. Over the weekend I got Mr. CR a stack of magazines from the library, and after I brought them home and he read them, he told me there was an interesting article in Wired about Groupon, coupon users, and other "retail hacks," and that I might find it interesting. I said, "Thanks...I wouldn't have found it by myself. I don't touch Wired magazine, it gives me the heebies."

He thought that was weird. (It's true, though. Wired is too "technology, technology, u-rah-rah!" for me.) But I did read the article, and found it interesting, and thought, hey I should post links to magazine articles once in a while...they're good nonfiction too! And sometimes, with all the links available online, I thought it might be nice if you could come to a page where someone said, "here, just read this one thing, it's interesting." Much easier than following a million links. And then, if we're all so inclined, we can discuss the article in the comments. So here goes!

Hacking Retail, Wired Magazine (Dec. 2010).

p.s. I don't actually use Groupon, and find all types of bargain shopping exhausting and maddening. But I still found the article interesting. Of course, it was in Wired magazine, so the general gist of the story was still "technology, technology, u-rah-rah."

Not secrets I'm going to be pursuing.

I couldn't resist a title like The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, by Gene Stone.

Secrets It's a simple enough premise. Journalist stone relates the stories of twenty-five individuals or groups who "never get sick," and reveals their secrets. A few of them are things you can't really influence: such as living in "blue zones" or having good genes, but the majority of them are things you can. There's some basic stuff: germ avoidance, napping, stresslessness, taking vitamin C, but there are also things a bit farther afield:

"So each morning Bill pours a coffee cup's worth of hydrogen peroxide into a sink filled with lukewarm water, shuts his eyes, puts his head in the sink, and blows bubbles through his nose to get the mixture circulating." (p. 95.)*

It's a readable little book, especially for a self-help/health title. The chapters are short and punchy, and Stone frames each of the tips around the story of a person who actually follows the regime (and does well by it). But I'm not going to finish it (turns out that good health isn't all that exciting to read about, although it's very exciting to have it), and I'm also not going to be following a hydrogen peroxide regime. I just know I'd find a way to poison myself, and that's not really worth it. But if you're looking for some new and healthy ideas for the new year? This book might be a fun place to start.

*Incidentally, don't try this without getting the book and reading disclaimer about this habit, including not breathing in any of the peroxide water.

Escapist nonfiction.

God help me, I enjoyed Lisa Scottoline's essay collection My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space.

Nest I never pick on or look down upon anyone who reads fiction genres*, because I know there's plenty of escapist nonfiction fare I enjoy. This book definitely comes under the "escapist nonfiction" heading, as the essays are all about three to five pages long, primarily cover the trials of author Scottoline's daily life and family members (one family member, her daughter Francesca, even has a few essays from her point of view included), and are compulsively readable. I left this book in the bathroom and was able to polish it off in a few days; if you sat down to read it it might take you an hour. Deep stuff it is not.

But I find something about Scottoline very amusing. It's not like we're in the same stage of life**--she's in her mid-fifties and her daughter has finally left the nest and I'm just at the beginning of that whole child-raising scene. But I still like her. Consider:

"I have lots of grudges, maybe three hundred of them, and they're always with me, like a Snuggie of bad feelings."*** (p. 18.)

I also like how she talks (gossips?) about her family members:

"Most people have a list of Things To Do, but Mother Mary has a list of Things Not To Do. Or more accurately, Things Never To Do. At the top of the list is Don't Go To The Movies. Other entries include Don't Eat Outside With The Bugs and Don't Walk All Over This Cockamamie Mall." (p. 58.)

I loved that, as I too refuse to walk around cockamamie malls and eat outside with bugs. (My own such list is extensive and includes things like Do Not Go Camping and Do Not Touch a Sewing Machine.) But I digress. It's a fun book if you need something fluffy and you're not feeling like a novel. It's as good as her first collection, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, and that takes some doing--humor follow-ups aren't often the strongest of books.

*Except Mr. CR, whose genre bookcases I mock ceaselessly, just because I'm a real gem of a wife.

**We also don't have much in common as she is a fabulously successful bestselling author.

***I'll admit it, I just find Snuggies funny. I find just SAYING "Snuggies" funny.

Kudos to Sedaris for trying something different.

Although I was never a huge David Sedaris fan (preferring essayist David Rakoff, just to be difficult), he's been growing on me of late. I think he tipped the scales when I listened to one of his essays about the medical care he received while in Paris.* It was a hilarious little piece about how he kept worrying about not having insurance, and giving the doctors his contact information in Paris so they could track him down for payment, and the doctors kept reassuring him they didn't need any of that stuff right away, first they were just going to treat him, and how happily shocked he was by the whole experience (as he was familiar with the American way, which belongs more to the "beat payment out, THEN treat illness" school), culminating in his resting in a recovery ward of the hospital, where they let him smoke, which made the whole thing one of his best days ever. Good stuff.

Sedaris So I was excited to get his new essay collection, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. And, although I read half of it and got more than a few chuckles out of it, I'm not going to keep reading it. I'm not sure what they're called, but these are little essays/stories/fables told from animals' points of view, and they're nicely illustrated by Ian Falconer (of "Olivia" picture book fame). The title story, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, is actually quite funny:

"The squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks when they ran out of things to talk about. Acorns, parasites, the inevitable approach of autumn: these subjects had been covered within their first hour, and so breathlessly their faces had flushed. Twice they had held long conversations about dogs, each declaring an across-the-board hatred of them and speculating on what life might be like were someone to put a bowl of food in front of them two times a day. 'They're spoiled rotten is what it comes down to,' the chipmunk had said, and the squirrel had placed his paw over hers, saying, 'That's it exactly. Finally, someone who really gets it.'" (p. 15.)

There's no doubt about it, Sedaris is a sharp guy, and a good humor writer. But I've never been into these types of stories. (Allegories? Is that what they are?) They remind me a bit of James Thurber's humor writing, and although I recognize his talent as well, this kind of fable humor has never been for me. (And some of these tales, much like fairy tales, can get very dark indeed.) I much prefer something straightforward and cutting, by authors like Dorothy Parker. I always feel like I get Dorothy Parker, although I'm sure there's stuff in her essays that I'm missing too.

So: Kudos to Sedaris for mixing things up a bit. But for real reading pleasure I'll probably just get and re-read one of David Rakoff's books.

*I can't for the life of me remember where I heard this essay or what it was called; maybe it was on a "best of..." NPR tape or something.