2013; 278 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Essays; Non-Fiction; Anecdotal Humor. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
Here's a writing assignment for you. Compose a 10-page essay on getting a colonoscopy. There’s one catch, however. You have to make it entertaining. Something readers will chuckle at, and that will make them want to immediately read more essays by you.
After that, write four more essays on these topics: Being robbed while in Hawaii; Litterbugs (in the UK); People ahead of you in lines at food places who won’t stop chatting with the cashier; and Kids throwing temper tantrums in stores. Remember to make all of them amusing.
When you’re finished with those, try to think of another 21 topics from your personal experiences to pen essays about. Make sure that your readers will still find all of them witty and that the stories will resonate with them.
Now that you've got all these personal anecdotes done, go out and buy David Sedaris’s book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, and see how his tales compare with yours. I’m guessing you’ll have gained a much greater appreciation for just how challenging it is to write books of this genre.
What’s To Like...
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is David Sedaris’s seventh book of anecdotal stories about his life, and I’ve read all the previous ones. There is an eighth one, Calypso, that was just released this past May, but I’ll wait until the hoopla (and price) dies down before snagging it.
The lengths of the essays are fairly consistent – about 10 pages each (26 chapters covering 278 pages). Normally, David Sedaris closes these books with a longer narrative, but here the final chapter was a collection of short-&-silly poems about all sorts of breeds of dogs. I don’t recall the author offering any of his poetry before, and I found these bits of doggy doggerel hilarious. My other favorite chapters were:
08. Easy, Tiger. Learning foreign languages (Mandarin and German).
09. Laugh, Kookaburra. Feeding kookaburras and turning off stoves.
18. #2 To Go. Eating "real" Chinese food.
22. Day In, Day Out. Keeping a diary.
23. Mind the Gap. An essay written in English, not in Yankee.
24. A Cold Case. Losing your passport and wallet in Hawaii.
The book’s contents follow the usual pattern – all the stories are personal experiences, and not in any order - chronological or otherwise. David Sedaris is a writer by profession, gay, grew up in a crazy family, travels extensively promoting his books, and has lived in various parts of the world, including New York, North Carolina, England, France and Italy. A couple of the chapters were written in wingnut style, and one was written in Britspeak.
I delighted in the details. In one chapter, he recounts spending some time in a city called Brindisi, a place I’d never heard of. His insights about living in France were LOL funny. I shuddered while reading the chapter on colonoscopies since I’m overdue and avoiding my first one. It was neat to see he’s familiar with Edith Pargeter’s (aka, Ellis Peters') Brother Cadfael novels. And the chapter about his compulsion of picking up litter resonated with me; for a while we had a guy in our neighborhood who did the same thing, at 5:30 every morning, even when it was pitch black outside. I know because I’d see him every morning as I left for work.
You should keep in mind there are R-rated words and adult situations in the book. Art Linkletter would have a cow. Misogynists and homophobes should steer clear; David Sedaris is unashamedly married, and unashamedly gay. Finally, in case you’re wondering, the titular owls show up in Chapter 17; but the diabetes never appears. Wikipedia gives a brief explanation for the title.
Shaun’s father, Hank, was a psychiatrist and sometimes gave his boys and me tests, the type for which there were, he assured us, “no right answers.” He and his wife were younger than my parents, and they seemed it, not just in their dress but in their eclectic tastes – records by Donovan and Moby Grape shelved among the Schubert. Their house had real hardcover books in it, and you often saw them lying open on the sofa, the words still warm from being read. (loc. 559)
There wasn’t a lot of familiar in China. No pork lo mein or kung pao chicken, and definitely no egg rolls. On our first night in Chengdu, we joined a group of four for dinner – one Chinese woman and three Westerners. The restaurant was not fancy, but it was obviously popular. Built into our table was a simmering cauldron of broth, into which we were to add side dishes and cook them until they were done. “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering us some tofu, some mushrooms, and some duck tongues,” said the Western woman sitting across from me. “Do you trust me to keep ordering, or is there anything in particular you might like?” (loc. 1818)
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls sells for $11.99 at Amazon. David Sedaris's other collections of anecdotal essays are all available, and in the $8.99-$14.99 price range.
Did I just refuse to marry my mother? (loc. 469)
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is another solid installment in the life-&-times of David Sedaris, but I wouldn’t call it my favorite. This is mostly due to the tone of the book, at least at the start. For me, the best David Sedaris stories are the ones written in a self-deprecatory style. But here his mood in a number of them is that of a grumpy old man. He rants about parents no longer disciplining their kids enough, moans about how crappy of a person his dad was, and whines about having to take swimming classes as a kid.
If these topics had been tackled with the author’s usual amount of insight and wit, things would’ve been fine. Unfortunately, here he just seemed like he wanted to vent.
Maybe he was being too subtle for my dense brain, or maybe he was in a bad mood when he penned some of the chapters.. In any case, he finds his groove about halfway through the book, the wit returns, the tone gets cheerier, and it’s smooth sailing thereafter.
Or perhaps I was just in a better mood when reading the second half of the book.
7½ Stars. One final note. David Sedaris at long last reveals his secret for coming up with interesting past experiences to write about in book after book. He’s been keeping diaries, making entries every day, for the past 35 years. Whenever he needs a new memoir for his next book, he just opens one of the many volumes of his diaries. Holy OCD-ness, Batman!