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Getting Started Reading David Sedaris

holidays on iceMy first exposure to David Sedaris’ books was when I was working at Barnes and Noble. Every morning we would have a little meeting where we all got together by the care and talked about grave issues, meaning: “Why aren’t you guys selling more membership cards?” I was a lowly shelver, so I didn’t have to sell the stupid things.

We also talked about the new books that had come out that week. I started my job in October, and in one of our November meetings our manager held up a book called Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. Suddenly everyone was clamoring and chiming in about how hilarious this guy was. I was a big humor reader, or so I thought, and I’d never heard of the guy.

I read the slim volume on my breaks and laughed my head off. It was even funnier than they had said. The crown jewel of the collection is, of course, The Santaland Diaries, Sedaris’ recounting of his seasonal job working as a Christmas Elf in a department store.

After that I read everything he had written to date and have continued to do so. So today I’m going to give you a David Sedaris bibliography and a couple of brief reviews. You won’t be sorry. Well, actually, you might.

Holidays on Ice

Funny stories centered on Christmas. Other than the Santaland Diaries, my favorite was a mock Christmas letter written by an increasingly hysterical woman after a year in which some of her husband’s mistakes come back to haunt her.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Essays about his life and his family. The title essay comes from a speech therapist’s efforts to help young David overcome a speech impediment. As always, my favorite stories in the book are about his father and his brother, The Rooster.

Naked

This one’s more hit and miss for me. Some of the stories are funny, some are actually pretty sad, and some are incredibly vulgar, even for Sedaris. This was the book where I read about David Sedaris and Tourette’s Syndrome. There is an essay called A Plague of Tics that comes as close to describing what my own tics feel like as anything else I’ve read.

Barrel Fever

This one is actually classified as fiction. It is my least favorite so far, but has some pretty good laughs in it.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

More of the same, not that that’s a bad thing. My favorite essay in this collection was about the Sedaris children’s astonishment when a local family showed up to come trick or treating the day after Halloween. When their mother told them they had to share their leftover candy, they dash into their rooms and start eating everything as fast as they can.

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

Highlights from this collection included, for me, his attempt to stop smoking, essays about living abroad, and the pathological competency of his boyfriend, Hugh.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary

Shame on me, I had no idea this was out until I decided I wanted to write this post and started looking up his titles to make sure I didn’t leave any out. This is apparently a more adult take on Aesop’s fables, which I reviewed briefly in Short Moral Stories For Adults.

I’ll have a report on it soon.

A note on David Sedaris on audio

I’ve never said this about any other book or author, but I believe Sedaris’ material is better in every way when it is read by the author. You have to hear it to get it. I would recommend two things, one small, one big.

First, David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall. I got this for Christmas a few years ago and still listen to it at least once a year.

And for the diehards, there’s the David Sedaris Big Box Set. It’s all of his works 0n audio up through Me Talk Pretty One Day. That’s the only amazon link I’m going to stick in this post, but there you can find all of his work. I took the box set on a long drive on a vacation a couple of years ago and I can’t remember a more enjoyable drive.

That’s it for now. I’ll come back and update this post when there are more books to add to the list.

Josh

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  • Susan Garvey January 4, 2011, 8:45 am

    I’m a big Dave Sedaris fan. My daughter and I went to see a play written by Dave and his sister Amy called The Book of Liz this last fall. Needless to say, between the two of them it was insanely hilarious. For those of you who are familiar with the work, I received a “Welcome to Clusterhaven” coffee mug from my daughter for Christmas. (It’s what I named my cubicle after seeing the play.) In addition, your comments about the Live at Carnegie Hall audio are so on the money. Hearing him tell his own stories adds so much more to them. We play his story about the Christmas traditions in the Netherlands every year at Christmas, because of our Dutch roots.

  • Asatar Bair | University of the Heart January 4, 2011, 11:30 am

    Nice report. I agree that Sedaris reading Sedaris is comedy gold. Something about the pauses, the deadpan delivery, the je ne sais quoi… One of my favorite lines from “When You Are Engulfed In Flames”: “‘Shit’ is the tofu of cursing.”

    • Josh Hanagarne January 5, 2011, 3:43 pm

      Awesome. I also really like him singing Billie Holiday.

  • ellen January 5, 2011, 9:48 am

    Sedaris was a frequent This American Life contributor so I’ve heard him read stories/essays from a lot of these collections. I think he’s even written some original essays for the show to go with their themes(?)
    His delivery when reading is too funny. I’ve never actually read his stuff using my eyeballs because I think I would be disappointed.

    • fallen monkey January 5, 2011, 5:00 pm

      Ah, Sedaris… “Jesus Shaves” in Me Talk Pretty One Day just makes me giggle incessently. I also recently watched the British movie “Nativity!” and don’t doubt it was inspired by that chapter in Holidays on Ice with the nativity critic 🙂

  • Mitchell January 9, 2011, 6:00 am

    I must say that I originally found your site doing a search on the word Tourettes, but have since come to immensely enjoy your postings. They are witty, funny and intelligent.
    Thanks
    Mitchell

  • Sean @ Alone and Unobserved January 10, 2011, 3:15 pm

    My first introduction to Sedaris came courtesy of a thirty-year-old female student at BYU who took one look at me and decided she knew EXACTLY the kind of media I would enjoy consuming (the list included Sedaris, Moulin Rouge and Jane Austen, if that gives you any idea). After coaxing me for weeks, I finally gave in. She sat me down next to her stereo in the living room of her apartment and tenderly pressed play on her CD of Holidays on Ice. She was not disappointed (Moulin Rouge was another story, sadly). The mordant, worldweary humor, the defeated, lisping drone—I was absolutely slain, destroyed, conquered.

    I guess what I’m saying is: Sedaris reading Sedaris is an experienced not to be missed.