Richard: So, something lighter this time, right Leah? It's a collection of essays by David Sedaris, and I have to say, I needed this book right now. He's so funny, but also dysfunctional, and dark at times. I saw lots of my family in here. You've read him before. What did you think?
Essayists such as Rothbart and Crosley and Sedaris, one might say, represent the prose equivalent of reality TV. They, too, claim to be recording their lives, while in fact they are putting on a performance; and they, too, count on the reader to know the rules of the game, the by now familiar game of meta. What makes this kind of performance different from the performance of a fiction writer is that, by “acting” under their own names, they inevitably involve motives of amour-propre. The essayist is concerned, as a fiction writer is not, with what the reader will think of him or her. That is why the new comic essayists are never truly confessional, and never intentionally reveal anything that might jeopardize the reader’s esteem. “Love me” is their all-but-explicit plea.
David Sedaris and Tina Fey could (probably) not have written these pages any better, but I’d love to see them try. Wouldn’t you? I smell a Facebook campaign in the making. Anyone game to spearhead that project?
Sedaris' astonishingly foul-mouthed younger brother Paul, known as Rooster, gets married and has a baby daughter, setting off a competition among his childless siblings "for the titles of best-loved aunts and uncles." In typical fashion, Rooster becomes obsessed with getting a spell-and-say toy, the Alphabet Pal, to curse.
He was David Sedaris, and the story was "Youth in Asia," one of the funniest, saddest, most perfectly woven little bits of autobiography in recent memory.
And after a particularly heavy discussion of Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, we needed a break. We needed some fun. And so we decided to take on one of satire's hottest essayists, and we dug into the David Sedaris classic, Me Talk Pretty One Day. Read on to see what happens when we get a little silly and talk fatty suits, poop, and an interesting fella named Rooster.
The self, then, has always been at the heart of the literary essay. But the new essay is exclusively about the self, with the world serving only as a foil and an accessory, as a mere staging ground for the projection of the self. Formally, one might describe the work of Sedaris, Crosley, Rothbart, and company as autobiographical comic narrative: short, chatty, funny stories about things that happened to me—weird things, or ordinary things that are made weird in the telling. What we now call an essayist used to be called a humorist. Sedaris’s books are sold as essays, but he is plainly trying to be Thurber, not Addison.
Richard: For our readers, David Sedaris is gay, and much of his focus in this collection is about his youth, how his parents really had no idea what was going on with him in general, and then his time in Paris with his boyfriend. It's fish out of water, but then he's also an everyman, too.
Rumor mill: He was in town not too long ago, and I guess he's working with an organization that seeks out bone marrow donors(?) And you could have your cheek swabbed to check if you'd be a potential match, and at the end David Sedaris himself actually did some swabbing of people getting books signed.