There’s no better way to start the new year in isolation than tucking into a good book. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, a nice cup of tea, or a fresh cup of coffee and pick up or download David Sedaris’s new book of humorous essays and stories, The Best of Me. As a confirmed and long-time fan of Sedaris’s writing, it fits the bill perfectly. For anyone who has been living in a cave without WiFi for the past few years and has never read his work, this is your chance to sample some of his best essays. Having read all of his previous writing, some of these stories were somewhat familiar but still wonderfully entertaining to read again.
Coming from a family of six children with a traditional, right-wing father and younger brother, a pragmatic, cocktail-tipping mother and four spirited sisters, Sedaris has plenty of life experiences to draw on. But no one tells a story or describes an everyday event with his level of skill and light touch. In describing his eclectic siblings, Sedaris says, “As children we’d been assigned certain roles—leader, bum, troublemaker, slut—titles that effectively told us who we were. I had been branded lazy and irresponsible.” They took turns forming alliances according to who was on the outs and who was supportive. His eldest sister, Lisa was dubbed The Most Likely To Succeed which left her feeling conflicted when she purchased and consumed gallon jugs of hearty burgundy. His sister Amy has achieved fame on her own as a TV personality and humorist.
Sedaris’s long-time relationship with his partner, Hugh, works like any marriage. They disagree; they quarrel; they love and live a life of shared experiences which Sedaris writes about brilliantly. They’ve had homes in the United States, England and France with all the associated complications, cultural adjustments, and decorating challenges. One of my favourite stories is about his efforts to learn to speak French while they were living in Paris. “Me Talk Pretty One Day” glorifies his “Frenglish” and struggles with learning a new language amongst a group of assorted foreigners ruled by a humourless teacher.
The next chapter, “Jesus Shaves” is even better. While trying to learn the proper use of personal pronouns, they engaged in a conversation about the customs associated with the various holidays celebrated by the assorted nationalities in the class. They understood Bastille Day but explaining Easter to a Muslim woman who had never heard the term before was difficult with minimal language and vocabulary skills. “Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as ‘to give of yourself your only begotten son’.” So, they resorted to discussing the foods of the holiday. “The rabbit of Easter. He bring the chocolate.” Explaining rabbits and baskets to a Muslim, along with such far-fetched Christian beliefs as “He call his self Jesus and then he die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber” becomes a hilarious story of mangled languages with the best of intentions.
His irreverence even extends to visiting Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. As two gay guys, Sedaris and his partner Hugh immediately begin hypothetically redecorating it to take advantage of the peculiar architecture and space constraints.
He recalls everyday experiences such as his refusal to give up his aisle seat on an airplane so the husband of the obnoxious woman sitting next to him could be joined by her partner. The stories of growing up in a family of six children are particularly entertaining. The extreme difference in their individual personalities is brilliantly described through the eyes of his younger self. His parents take a laissez-faire approach to child-rearing unless provoked into service. They’re careless about who they hire to babysit their six children when they take a week’s vacation without the kids and Sedaris’s description of their week with the peculiar Mrs. Peacock is hysterical.
The Best of Me is as good a place as any to start if you’ve never read anything by David Sedaris but any one of his many books will delight you, I’m sure. A couple of the stories in this book in my opinion are not as good as some from his earlier books but that’s a personal call. I particularly enjoyed his earlier stories in another book about working as a ‘cleaning lady’ and all the strange clients he had.
His handling of understatement, irony and various other forms of humour will put a smile on your face, particularly if you share this sense of humour. He’s a bit raunchy in places but in his hands, that’s fun too.
I raced through this book in no time flat, then felt flat when I was finished. I wanted more. I hope his writing never ends.
If you are unable to obtain a copy of The Best of Me by David Sedaris at your local bookstore or library, click here or on the image of the cover to order from Amazon.
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