Trouble Thinking

July 14, 2010

Great Contemporary Writers: David Sedaris

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Chris @ 8:24 pm

In this new will-become-regular-if-I-feel-like-it feature, I am going to highlight some of my favorite currently working writers, and discuss why you should give them a shot. Most of them aren’t going to be very obscure or anything, heaven knows today’s isn’t, but, the way I see it, there are so many books and authors out there, even the most highly esteemed writer can still be new to someone.

There are a lot of authors out there whose work I admire, but David Sedaris the only one who I’m actually jealous of. Seriously, if I were granted the ability absorb the powers of one writer working today, and make them my own, I would suck David Sedaris dry of his literary prowess in an instant. I’d reduce that guy to withered, illiterate, husk so fast, he wouldn’t even know what hit him. By the time I was done with him, he’d be so out of juice he’d be reduced to writing haikus on construction paper with crayons, while I would be pumping out some of the most consistently excellent collections of essays and stories available today. I wouldn’t even feel bad.

A perverse way of showing my admiration I suppose, but quite simply, David Sedaris is just that good.  Sedaris has one of the greatest gifts a writer can possess, and that is the ability to make any story interesting—and funny as hell—regardless of subject. Yes, a lot of ridiculous shit has happened in his life which he mines for his books, but that’s not all Sedaris writes about. Just as often, he takes the time to recount mundane, every day events—and keeps it just as interesting as the crazy stuff.

I’m reminded of a story Sedaris tells in When You Are Engulfed in Flames, about an awkward time he had at the doctor’s. There is no good reason why a story about waiting at the doctor’s office should be all that interesting, yet without fail he finds a way to keep you stuck on every word, and laughing all the way; all while making the whole process seem effortless. It isn’t until you finish reading, and review the story in your mind, that you realize that there’s nothing there that had to be funny—David Sedaris just knew how to tell it so that it could be.

For whatever reason, memoirs have taken off in popularity in the last decade or so, and Sedaris is the best of the lot. Most of his books take that form, a series of anecdotes from throughout his life, and they’re all uniformly excellent. My personal favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which primarily covers his early days living in France with his partner Hugh, but also reviews such deeply personal topics as past drug addictions, and somewhat less private subjects, such as the time he was at a party, went to the bathroom, became embarrassed because someone left a giant turd in the toilet, and the panics he went through to ensure the other guests didn’t think it had been him who had done the deed. A wide range of topics to be sure, yet Sedaris finds a way to keep the whole thing tonally consistent, not to mention hilarious, throughout.

David Sedaris is a masterful, and genuinely funny, author; one of the best out there today, and I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Also, to any mad scientists reading, I wasn’t kidding earlier: I will pay cash money for some kind of ray, brain swapping device, or vampiric essence, which will allow me to thieve David Sedaris’ talent. E-mail me.

Recommended reading:

–          Me Talk Pretty One Day

–          Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

–          When You Are Engulfed in Flames

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