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R&R 139 | Holidays on Ice… v.2.0

David Sedaris
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1998 (first edition), 2008 (second edition)
This edition: Back Bay Books, 2010 (second edition)
ISBN: 978-0-316-07891-7
Genre: memoir, humorist
Pages: 166
Cover design by Chip Kidd; cover photography by Marshall Troy


The first thing I plan on doing when I'm done writing this book review is to deconstruct the myriad of branches and bulbs that is our Christmas Tree – which, I should add, is our second tree. We've managed to kill off our first one. It was quite a pathetic sight, really: limp branches, falling off. Needles everywhere. Duct tape couldn't save it. Tears were shed, some out of pride: that dear ole tree lasted us 4 whole Christmases. The rest of the tears were the direct result of my husband and I crylaughing our way to the gardencenter to pick up our new tree.

The holidays are once again over and done with. So this review is, as we Dutch would say it, "butter after the meal" and thus completely unnecessary and too late. BUT. It's how I roll.

When I bought HOLIDAYS ON ICE v.1.0 in 2010 at a second-hand book store, I wasn't actually aware of there being a newer version published two years earlier. I found that out when I reviewed it, but also figured I'd get to the rest of the book at some point! Now, I'm reviewing v.2.0, but only the 6 additional stories as I already covered the rest several years ago.

The first "new" story I discovered in v.2.0 is Jesus Shaves, from one of my favorite Sedaris bundles, ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY. It's more about Easter, but generally can be read as a story about any holiday, and holiday traditions. And how they vary across cultures. And how secretly, one can be pretty intolerant about someone else's beliefs – whether we're talking about easter bunnies here… or about something deeper. What I believe? That works. That makes sense. What you believe (or don't believe)? Man. That's fucked up. I liked that bit of social commentary here because it's true! It's what we humans do. Many tend to judge everything that doesn't fit within their own mindset. And I love how Sedaris addresses that with light humor.
What I also loved about this story is the dialog, which is in broken French (as it's set during a French class) translated to broken English for the sake of this story. Hilarious. It's like Sedaris ran Google Translate over it before getting it ready to send to the publisher.

Us and Them continues with the theme of intolerance for other people's traditions and beliefs and non-beliefs. (But takes place during Halloween.) The Tomkey family, you see, doesn't watch TV. They don't believe in TV. But it's so normal! Everyone watches TV! Etcetera. It's a great analogy. Or at least, that's how I read it. It's not quite as direct of a Christmas story, but it was still apt: it made me think about how some people clutch their pearls when someone deigns to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I say Happy Holidays. Not to stomp on Christians… but to include everyone.

The next story is a short one with a big message: Let it Snow, about Sedaris' siblings and stubborn mom (I love reading about her, I really do), is about forgiveness and loving your mom – no matter what insane crap she pulls at times.

Six to Eight Black Men is a little close to home, and a great addition to the collection. The Dutch holiday Sinterklaas, after all, is how Santa Clause originated.
It's one thing to live in this country during this Holiday (December 5th/6th; a time of arguments about political correctness, or the amount of pepernoten you'll find in stores nationwide from freakin' August on), it's another to try and explain it to foreigners without feeling embarrassed… or being called a racist. See, Sinterklaas doesn't have elves as helpers: he has black men. Six to eight black men. The story behind this is that Sinterklaas freed slaves, and gave them paying jobs. People who don't know this tend to assume they are slaves, and they judge us harshly, probably based on our history.
…the blackface doesn't help. While kids here are taught that "Black Petes" are their friends (a good message), I still cringe every time I see shoe polish (!!!) and bright red lips mixed with golden hoop earrings and a bad afro wig… on white people. To refer to Jesus Shaves for a moment: "Man. That's fucked up." I don't know what I'll do about this holiday when I have kids.
Thankfully, Sedaris doesn't make us feel like we need to crawl into a corner and never show ourselves again. Every country has embarrassing traditions and silly stories to tell. We've all got something that makes others raise their eyebrows all the way into their hairline. (Sedaris mentions how a blind man in Michigan can legally hunt.)

So far so good: all the new stories, despite different holidays, seem to fit well with the older six. It seems it's become more about holidays in general, making the bundle a lot more varied. The stories are each unique and just very different, and the book's a joy to read. But The Monster Mash could easily have been excluded from the bundle, and I wouldn't have missed it. Don't get me wrong, it's funny – morbidly funny (it's about David working at a mortuary), but there was no holiday spirit like with the other stories. Any other time of the year: bring it. I'll read it and love it. But it's not something I'm looking to read specifically over Christmas.

The final story is from Sedaris newer book SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK (which is on my to-be-reviewed pile). This illustrated bundle of books is about animals doing human things, which is both bizarre and hilarious to read. The Cow and the Turkey is definitely Christmas themed (as barn animals are doing their annual Secret Santa), and it covers selfishness and how karma will eventually bite you in the ass. It's a bittersweet ending to a fun bundle of Holiday stories.

Sedaris is a walking oxymoron: the best cynical sentimentalist I've ever had the joy to read. I'm just grateful he's writing. He's cheered up many a foul mood of mine. And he's given me at least 11 (out of 12) reasons to enjoy Christmas even more. Thanks man.

Happy new year, everyone. I hope 2014 will bring you a lot of happiness and joy; that you will accomplish what you hope to accomplish or at least find the spirit and inspiration to try; that you and yours will be safe and in good health. And of course I hope that in 2014 you'll have the chance to explore lots of new stories and worlds…
XO Kaat Z

R&R 115 | Holidays on Ice

Christmas-themed R&R 115 takes priority over non-Christmas-themed R&R 114. Yup.

David Sedaris
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1997
This edition: First Back Bay paperback, 1998
ISBN: 0-316-77923-7
Genre: humor
Pages: 134
Cover design by Rymn Massand; cover photograph by James Smolka

R&R 115 | Holidays on Ice

Ah, yuletide is upon us once more. I heart the holidays; it's currently cold and very, very white outside (this is the snowiest winter in years for this part of Europe), but I'm warm and gleeful because it is Christmas Eve, and Christmas is almost here. I love the lights, candy canes, baubles and tinsel ("Ohhh… SHINY!") and – yes – I'm sure I'd get a kick out of egg nog but it's not really a thing here. I'm not fanatical about Christmas, but it does qualify as my favorite holiday of the year. And this year, I couldn't resist incorporating my favorite festive season into my favorite activity: reading. It's Christmas… David Sedaris style.

Holidays on Ice is a small bundle containing six Christmas stories; perfect for an entertaining and quick read during the busy holidays.

The collection starts off with a hit: the SantaLand Diaries is now one of my very favorite Sedaris stories. It's take your reader to work day weeks; Sedaris describes, in glorious detail, what it's like to work as an elf at Macy's SantaLand. There's an Elf for everything (Window Elf, Exit Elf, Photo Elf, you name it…), and Sedaris introduces the reader the other side of mall Santa madness. Immediately, Sedaris shows his satirical side, but his bluntness is nothing compared to that of the second story, Season's Greetings to our Friends and Family!!!

A parody on the quintessential Christmas Letter, the Dunbar family matriarch describes to anyone who'll read it her horror at having to take in her husband's illegitimate lovechild. It's almost scary how well Sedaris pulls off Mrs. Dunbar's voice. It's almost as if this letter actually is written by a crazy, neurotic and embittered woman who uses far too many exclamation points to keep up appearances (but failing miserably).
The narrator is severely unreliable: nothing she writes can be taken at face value. Which makes it even funnier. Um, but if you're into political correctness, this book is so not for you. There's no mercy…

Not even for baby's.

Sedaris dials the sadism down in the third story, which features the beloved Sedaris family – I love Sedaris' stories about his family! – and one special house guest: Dinah, the Christmas whore. The title is absolutely the funniest, but the story itself is not the catchiest. But it does show the most Christmas spirit, and that makes it a winner: the Sedaris family seriously couldn't care less that Dinah's a prostitute and welcomes her into their home. Ah, it's sweet.

Sedaris has a reputation to uphold: Dinah's story was cute, but it's time to move on. Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol has him reviewing elementary school plays. Thaddeus stamps all over them.

In the role of Mary, six year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin. A cloying, preening stage presence, her performance seemed based on nothing but an annoying proclivity toward lifting her skirt and, on rare occasions, opening her eyes.
– Front Row with Thaddeus Bristol, p. 95

And here I was thinking Season's Greetings!!! was evil. Ohhhh, the nastiness of Thaddeus Bristol. Delicious reading material. I ate it up.

The fifth story is a bit of a snoozer though; Based on a True Story is a speech by an obnoxious television exec (with regular pauses for effect added in there), and while it was certainly riddled with humor, I think the voice Sedaris had created was (again) too convincing and it had an adverse effect on me. I kinda didn't want to hear a word this douche – the exec, not Sedaris – had to say anymore. Based on a True Story was also the least Christmas-y of them all, and thus the weakest link in this collection.

Sedaris brings it home with a fantastic story, mocking materialism and competitiveness. Christmas Means Giving, sure – but with your heart, and for the right reasons. It was a perfect story to close with.

HOLIDAYS ON ICE is a short and (not so) sweet collection, but the content is a delight, no story the same.

I opened Holidays on Ice because of Christmas spirit; six completely different stories later, I'm smiling and already putting this one back on my TBR-pile – for next year. I have annual Christmas movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Grinch. Bad Santa. Methinkst I now have a book to read every Christmas, too.

— Fin —


A few more reviews and an end-of-year post will be posted before 2011.

R&R 060 | Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

David Sedaris
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
First published in 2004
This edition: Abacus, 2005
ISBN: 0-349-11670-9
Cover design: info N/A

R&R 060 | Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

With another fullfilling bundle of stories about his life, David Sedaris has yet again managed to bring joy to my life. (I have R&R-ed Me Talk Pretty One Day, last year.)

Deliciously blunt in its tone, Dress Your Family instantly had me hooked, reeling me in further as I kept reading. While reading the first 15 pages I had already laughed out loud several times, and I felt such excitement knowing I had over 200 pages of this stuff left! I really love finding humorous material that isn't forced, but flows naturally and I actually feel happy knowing Sedaris has written loads more books, one of which (Naked) is currently residing with my other to-be-read books. Plenty of material to keep me going for a while.

Dress Your Family was pretty much a perfect read for me. Using his addictively funny and at times dry voice, Sedaris again shares with us tales involving his family members and growing up, and he offers critical observations on us humans…

– …including the Dutch (represent!). In Six to Eight Black Men. Sedaris explores the origins of Santa; in The Netherlands he's known as St. Nicholas and let me tell you, the whole thing is cute for kids, but yes, quite ridiculous.

– The craziest human in this book is definitely, DEFINITELY, David's neighbour's kid Brandi-with-an-i in The Girl Next Door. I seriously kept picturing the twins from The Shining when I read this story. Quite a good one.

– Sedaris, in a quirky way, shares a part of what it was like growing up while gay. In Full House, Sedaris flashes back to his childhood, at a time when he beat all the other boys at strip poker. Oh, so sneaky.

– …but it's not all giggles in this book. Hejira broke my heart a little bit. Sedaris put some things into perspective regarding being a young gay person and the struggle to be accepted. Yes, I laughed at what happened in Full House. But Hejira was no laughing matter.
(I think the inclusion of this story is what makes me love this book so much more.)

– Finally, Nuit of the Living Dead is a perfect way to end the book; an example of how sometimes people are headed for disaster without realizing it.

I would have listed most of these stories if I could, but I'd rather keep it short this time. Let me simply finish this by encouraging you to find this book and just let it reel you in.

R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009

R&R 027 | Me Talk Pretty One Day

David Sedaris
Me Talk Pretty One Day
Abacus, 2002
First published in: 2000
Cover: design by Ian Kaye & Melissa Hayden
Flickr post

Here’s how it went down: I had just finished reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement, a book that affected me quite a bit. Man, did I need a light, fun read after that one. A friend recommended I try out Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris; I had heard of this book before and decided, sure… sounds good to me, I’ll get a copy of this book, made up of a collection of autobiographical articles divided in two sections: part one, and deux. For this review, I decided to point out some of my favourite essays. (Though my examples are just that; you really have to read the stories yourself.)

Part one offers a look into Sedaris’ earlier years: growing up in a colourful Greek-American family in North-Carolina, failing at art school and doing drugzzz. The highlights in this section (for me):
1) David’s father Lou (to whom the book is dedicated) and his passion to form a jazz band a with his uninterested and most importantly musically talentless kids (Giant dreams, midget abilities).
2) Apart from reading about Sedaris’ sisters – including Amy, The Comedian – a foul-mouthed brother is thrown into the mix, saying the nastiest things to his parents while referring to himself as The Rooster (You can’t kill the rooster).
3) A visit to the bathroom reveals the unflushable eh.. stool sample left there by Sedaris’ toileting predecessor. It’s not David’s. But people will think it is. Whaddaya gonna do? (Big Boy)

Part deux, as you may suspect, tells of Sedaris’ move to Paris with his partner Hugh. For me this was the funniest section, including writings on subjects such as learning French or mocking his fellow Americans a little. Here’s a selection of other fun bits:
1) Sedaris is trying to learn French, and one of his methods is to listen to a French ‘medical phrases’ tape. Talking a walk through Paris with his tape playing, Sedaris can be overheard saying things such as “Could I trouble you for a stool sample?” (The tapeworm is in).
2) Sedaris is the American in Paris, and on the subway he overhears American tourists talking about him. They think Sedaris is a French, smelly pickpocket. He’s intrigued with what they come up with and notes down the dialogue in Picka pocketoni.
3) Lou returns, as he does often enough in this book – which does reflect a lot on David’s relationship with his father, as it turns out – and this time with one bad habit: food hoarding. Reminiscent of someone I know who saves food until it goes bad and then eats it anyway, I’ll eat what he’s wearing had me laughing quite a bit, saying “Ohhh don’t I know it!” several times.

And that recognition is perhaps why Me Talk Pretty One Day is a perfect light read, but one that registers in your brain, one you remember. Quite recently, in the car on the way to Wil’s place, I started telling him about Sedaris and some of the stories I selected above. Kind of like, “You wouldn’t BELIEVE what David did next!!” And that’s when it hit me, why this book is so damn likeable. It reads like David is someone you know. He shares his stories with you like you’re buddies. When reading, it kind of feels like you’re at a bar with him, enjoying a few too many appletini’s, and there he is, confiding in you his most personal (ergo, embarrassing) moments, and the two of you are laughing so hard, everyone in the bar is eyeing you, wondering what’s so funny.

Now, being a class act dork myself, I always respect someone who’s not afraid to embarrass himself, entertaining me in the meantime. By opening himself up so candidly regarding recognisable human observations (the everyday life) he has found the perfect formula; David Sedaris may consider himself to be a failure in visual arts, but he most certainly mastered the art of comedy through writing.


R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008