December 24, 2010
Christmas-themed R&R 115 takes priority over non-Christmas-themed R&R 114. Yup.
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1997
This edition: First Back Bay paperback, 1998
Cover design by Rymn Massand; cover photograph by James Smolka
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.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.
September 28, 2009
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
First published in 2004
This edition: Abacus, 2005
Cover design: info N/A
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
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.
October 24, 2008
Me Talk Pretty One Day
First published in: 2000
Cover: design by Ian Kaye & Melissa Hayden
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
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.