Wednesday, 1 June 2011

DAVID SEDARIS at 3am


I'm not doing so much of the sleeping at the moment, which is not good for the health but is extremely good for the reading list. Usually one chooses books by a series of criteria, such as – I've heard of it, it sounds interesting, it's free; at the moment, I am choosing books based simply on the question: how will it read at 3am?

David Sedaris reads wonderfully well late at night, and thus over the last weeks I have read THE SANTALAND DIAIRIES, BARREL FEVER, DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDOURY AND DENIM, and NAKED.

Sedaris has made a career of writing humorously about his own life. It is the apotheosis of anecdote. This is a pretty small niche, and it sort of staggers me he can get this much material out of one little life.

Interestingly, it's quite hard to give you a little excerpt that gives an example of how funny he is; it's not a one-liner kind of thing, more a comic point of view, that's hard to define precisely. That said, here's him sleeping on the floor of a Greyhound bus:

The bus's colossal engine lay just beneath my head, providing warmth for the countless bits of misplaced candy that melted to form a fragrant bed of molten taffy
.

Sedaris had some trouble with drugs, and with being a general layabout, for much of his twenties and thirties, and some of his stories are about this. I don't know what it means about me that I find this procession of failures strangely comforting; I think it's just that one isn't used to anyone being so honest about where they went wrong.

He clearly had no career plan, but was eventually discovered reading aloud his diary ,which he had kept from age 21, in a Chicago club. This got him a spot on NPR with THE SANTALAND DIARIES – his essay about working as a Christmas Elf at Macy's (say no more). He then wrote BARREL FEVER, which is the only one of his books I've read that is 'fiction,' and indeed the only one I gave up on. It's interesting to see how difficult it is to be what you are: a personal essayist – in a world of novelists. No doubt there's a moral in there somewhere. Then came NAKED (my second favourite, after WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES)and DRESS YOUR FAMILY.

So, apparently, I am now a Sedaris expert. And all the rest of you were wasting your time sleeping.

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