Read: April 2020
Author: David Sedaris
Genre: Memoir / Non-Fiction
Length: 291 (hardcover)
Selected By: Elle Tea
Welcome to the hilarious, strange, elegiac, outrageous world of David Sedaris. In Naked, Sedaris turns the mania for memoir on its ear, mining the exceedingly rich terrain of his life, his family, and his unique worldview – a sensibility at once take-no-prisoners sharp and deeply charitable. A tart-tongued mother does dead-on imitations of her young son’s nervous tics, to the great amusement of his teachers; a stint of Kerouackian wandering is undertaken (of course!) with a quadriplegic companion; a family gathers for a wedding in the face of imminent death. Through it all is Sedaris’s unmistakable voice, without doubt one of the freshest in American writing.
… my shoe was calling. Take me off, it whispered. Tap my heel against your forehead three times. Do it now, quick, no one will notice.
Given the state of… everything, I really needed a laugh at the end of March (which seemed to linger for 195 days) and throughout April (which seems to be lasting 350 days longer than it should). And Sedaris’s Naked kinda-sorta did the job.
You steal the things that you covet while you take the things the original owner is incapable of appreciating. The pencil had spoken to me of its neglect, and I had offered to put it to good use. Taking is just borrowing without the formality.
Naked – a collection of essays – is very well-written, and the first half of it is really quite amusing. The stories about his mildly-senile Greek grandmother are absolutely hilarious, as are just about any chapter featuring Sharon, the firecracker matriarch of the wacky Sedaris clan. And as someone who has always believed that if you can make others laugh about a topic – no matter how dark or depressing or frightening – then it must not be too serious, I loved that absolutely nothing in Sedaris’s life is off-limits: not the obsessive-compulsive behavior which plagued his youth, not his struggles as a homosexual in macho America, not his stint working with the mentally ill, not alcoholism or the cancer which eventually took his mother’s life… nothing. With the passage of time, Sedaris renders all of their dysfunctions completely laughable.
There seemed to be some correlation between devotion to God and a misguided zeal for marshmallows.
For me, things begin to fizzle out a little past the halfway point, around the chapter when Sedaris begins detailing his time as a hitchhiker in the 1960s, and it never quite recovers, even when he leaves us with his impressions during his stint with a nudist colony. From the hitchhiking on, each story still had its moments, but I found it harder and harder to really laugh without feeling at least a little uncomfortable. As he grows older, it seems Sedaris loses the ability to just laugh at the situations in which he finds himself and the way things in his life tend to work out; rather, he begins to pass judgment, often very harshly, on those whose ways of life he wishes to experience first-hand.
My hands tend to be full enough dealing with people who hate me for who I am. Concentrate too hard on the millions who hate you for what you are and you’re likely to turn into one of those unkempt, sloppy dressers who sag beneath the weight of the two hundred political buttons they wear pinned to their coats and knapsacks…
I’ll give him credit – Sedaris will truly try just about anything once… but while reading I got the impression that, as he ages and the more he sees of people and the world, the higher he seems to place himself and the more he looks down on the choices and situations of others. The humor which begins self-deprecatingly does a one-eighty and becomes more targeted towards other people, people who, for all intents and purposes, actually welcomed him in; it’s one thing when Sedaris is laughing at himself, when he’s laughing at his upbringing after, as an adult, he has had the opportunity to compare it to others’ experiences and can see what worked and what didn’t for himself… But after the hitchhiking episode, it seems he’s not so much laughing at himself as at the people around him. Even Ashes, the chapter detailing the wedding of one of his sisters while the family is still coming to grips with Sharon’s cancer diagnosis, was, at best, bittersweet; his retroactive ruminations are poignant, at times unforgiving, and as always brutally honest, but it is up to Sharon herself to bring levity to her own grim situation.
I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.
Since I finished this selection relatively early in April, I took a little time to research more of Sedaris’s later interviews to see how he and his siblings fared later in life and whether his older self had any opinions about his younger self’s work. In some of the interviews I read, he did express regret for a few of the rather rash opinions he had previously expressed, specifically those about his parents’ relationship. The other Sedaris children don’t seem to have done too poorly for themselves for the most part, either: his elder sister (Lisa) is apparently happily married, while one of his younger sisters (Amy) has actually been (or her voice has been, anyway) in a few television programs I’ve seen, and the baby of the family (Paul, aka The Rooster) is self-employed. Unfortunately, one of his sisters (Tiffany) committed suicide in 2013, and there are a few interviews in which David is put in the awkward (and absurd) position of having to defend why he and his remaining family members aren’t responsible for the actions of their estranged adult sibling.
“All my grandchildren have been ground up for fertilizer or whatever it is they do with the aborted fetuses. It puts them under my feet but keeps them out of my hair, which is just the way I like it. Here’s your picture back.”
I vaguely recall enjoying David Sedaris’s contributions to NPR’s program This American Life (a story about being one of Santa’s elves stands out, as does one about cell phone etiquette), and I couldn’t quite reconcile my memories of that storyteller with the narrator of the latter half of this book. I listened to a sample of Sedaris and his sister, Amy, reading from an entirely different selection, and I think perhaps the printed version of Naked just didn’t do his storytelling justice. Listening to David’s narration and Amy’s impression of their little brother for that piece really made a huge difference, and I found myself laughing at passages that I just don’t believe I would have found quite so entertaining had I been simply reading them off the pages.
Sick people reminded us not of what we had, but of what we lacked. Everything we said sounded petty and insignificant; our complaints paled in the face of theirs, and without our complaints, there was nothing to say.
All things considered, this was a relatively entertaining selection and a nice break from the seriousness of these strange days in which we find ourselves. I would give another book or collection by Sedaris a go, but I will try the audio version next time.
You can’t brace yourself for famine if you’ve never known hunger; it is foolish to even try. The most you can do is eat up while you still can, stuffing yourself, shoveling it in with both hands and licking clean the plates, recalling every course in vivid detail.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): n/a.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
I swore to be all those things and more in exchange for twenty dollars and a written guarantee that I would always have my own private bedroom.
This book was okay. I do admit there were a couple of times that I really did laugh out loud but I felt like there wasn’t enough of those moments to really say that I liked this book. I spent a lot of time fearing for our author’s safety. He was very…I don’t know the word because part of me wants to say adventurous but then again some of the things he did I just want to rank with foolish. He hitchhiked across the country. Is it adventurous or foolish? I would never do this or pick up a hitchhiker but then again I am a very paranoid individual and can have a habit of thinking the worst will happen in a situation. It was a different time when he was hitchhiking but he came across some really “interesting” people. I really did think something absolutely terrible was going to happen. Spoiler alert! I already knew that the author was not dead so I didn’t have to worry about him dying. I still worried about what was going to happen to him though.
There were bulbs to lick and bathroom faucets to test before finally I was free to enter my bedroom, where I would carefully align the objects on my dresser, lick the corners of my metal desk, and lie upon my bed, rocking back-and-forth and thinking of what an odd woman she was, my third grade teacher, Miss Chestnut. Why come here and lick my switches when she never used the ones she had?
I felt really sorry for him when he was a child. He had this obsessive compulsive thing going on and it sounded really horrible. I hated it for him. Also, at the time that he had this it didn’t seem to be something that people acknowledged as a true problem. His teachers would come over to talk to his mother and they would end up talking about him and laughing. He would listen in to what they were saying.
It would have been all right for him to remain at home for the rest of his life, massaging worry beads and drinking bitter coffee, but to marry a woman with two distinct eyebrows was unpardonable.
I really did not like how they treated their grandmother. On one side it sounded like she was a hard to get along with person bordering on the edge of terrible. For instance his mother did not like her at all. I give her this because since she wasn’t Greek the grandmother did her best to demean her by referring to her as the girl and not by her name. What I didn’t like is when the kids wanted to know about their grandfather’s death. I guess I should remember that kids can be a little too forthright and don’t necessarily know what they shouldn’t be asking. With this in mind even my elementary school self would not ask, “After he died, did he crap in his pants?” I also felt bad for her when she went in to a home. However, the fist place they put her in was a nice place and she was “kicked out”. Then she went to a couple of other places. One place the grandchildren were more interested in the foul mouthed lady roommate instead of their grandmother. It was a bad situation all around. Grandma was terrible and everyone else was also a bit terrible too.
We didn’t want advice on our swing, we wanted only to be left alone to practice witchcraft, deface fashion dolls, or sit in the privacy of our rooms fantasizing about anything other than gold.
I feel like the father was my least favorite person in the whole story. He was pretty mean to his kids and his wife. He didn’t want to spend money on anything unless it pleased him. Such as the children did not want to learn golf. They had expensive gold sets but no one wanted to learn it. He was pretty nasty to his wife but hey maybe this is the way he showed love. If so he really loved those around him. I didn’t like his response to his daughter getting her first period. He is definitely one of those kind of guys. Which kind you ask. The kind that if he knows you are on your period he can just write it off to lady problems. Speaking of which one of my favorite parts was what his daughter says to him after becoming a woman because what the son is thinking it felt like the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie says Fudge. I was reading it and could hear the grown up voice of Ralphie narrating the scene.
Methinks, kind sir, most gentle lady, fellow siblings all, that this barnyard fowl be most tasty and succulent, having simmered in its own sweet juices for such a time as it might take the sun to pass, rosy and full-fingered, across the plum-colored sky for the course of a twilight hour.
One of the chapters that seemed to have quite a few funny parts was the chapter in which he finds acting. I liked when he went around talking like a Shakespeare play.
I feel like the last chapter of the book which by the way was spent at a nudist colony may have been a little too long for my liking. It made me feel like that episode of Golden Girls where they accidentally booked a trip to a nudist colony and while in that episode you were required to wear clothes to dinner here you did not. There was one scene that makes me gag and will stick with me for a while. I hope I will forget it but it seems unlikely. Maybe it’s because the wound is so fresh….maybe.
And here we have what appears to be an overturned clog, lying beneath what closely resemble the pocked, flat-featured head of the ignorant hillbilly occupying my rightful seat!
I give our author props because he came out as a gay man during a time when it was not as acceptable as it is today. I felt sorry with what he had to go through and people judging him but I liked that he didn’t change himself.
Sleep spares you humiliation and saves money at the same time: nothing to eat, nothing to buy, just lie back and dream your life away.
It wasn’t a bad book and if you like reading about the lives of others this one is a quick read. I wouldn’t say no to reading anything that this author writes it’s just that this particular book was not my cup of tea.
His health was something he definitely needed to worry about, as I planned to kill him as soon as possible.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): n/a.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
This was very brief and honestly, powerful in the brevity of the book. So, my review will also be fairly short. I can say I was caught between horror and amusement in the opening sequences and from there the book screamed DSYFUNCTION, DYSFUNCTION…OVER HERE, DYSFUNCTION! The detail of OCD made me grimace and dry heave a few times, but I think that was the set up for us to understand just how dysfunctional his early life was. As he makes his way home, and we are introduced to his family, my feeling was, “oh no, he really can’t help this.” How was he supposed to survive in that group of hyenas? It is also easy to say that his early life couldn’t have impacted his college years any worse than what is depicted here. In fact, I was thinking, “of course, why wouldn’t that happen?”
Besides his already odd disposition, let’s add in the dysfunction of his home. His mother was a piece of work. I will say, it may have been an attempt to protect him, but it came off super condescending and I was more than offended for him. A reflection on mothers, or piss poor mothers is also prevalent here. It’s a testament to withdrawn, possibly self-serving and definitely disengaged mother. If you were concerned your mother was cold, withholding and an absolute waste of space, take a look at his and you will probably say, “well, mine wasn’t so bad.”
Of course, I felt for his grandmother. What do you do as an immigrant with a daughter-in-law who doesn’t understand or refuses to give any credence to who you are? I believe that though she was strange (as only can be portrayed as a Gypsy Greek woman), I do not believe that anything about her portrayal was malicious. If anything, I felt that though Sedaris does not know exactly how to relate to his grandmother, he is of a kindred spirit. In fact, having his grandmother around took a little of the spotlight off of him. Whether it be due to her age or her disposition as a mother-in-law to a daughter-in-law who only sees those around her as a burden because of her age and culture. If we delve into this a bit, there is a not so subtle commentary on how others deal with those who don’t measure up to their expectations.
Honestly, the remaining “characters” are superfluous. There is no need to be overly concerned with them other than to express further dysfunction. How the siblings cope with the dysfunction is representative of a typical American family that has more than its fair share of idiosyncrasies that make you want to throw them all in a psych ward or therapy group.
Narration Review†: The Sedaris siblings’ representations of their family could only do a reading of this nature justice. They know how to impart it because they lived it and the humor is not lost, but neither is horror.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): n/a.
Lady Esbe listened to the Audible edition of this selection, narrated by David Sedaris and Amy Sedaris.
† Narration “cup” scores do not count towards the overall average score of the selection itself.