Things I Learned From David Sedaris Essays

Last night, I finished book #2 of my 100 books of the new year challenge: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by the amazing David Sedaris. He is such a great writer, and somehow is able to write about everything in a meaningful, sad, and hilarious way. Always at the same time. It’s incredible.

So this is the third I’ve read by Sedaris, but I think I’d count it as a favorite based on what I can remember from the other ones, which I think included Naked and Holidays on Ice. This book of essays seemed to follow a more constant theme throughout, which always makes that type of non-fiction, humor memoir easier for me to read because of the connection between the stories. 

Anyway, Sedaris is the king of satire, I say that without hesitation. He can make family values, entertainment, even love into a complete farce, but then somehow implies that it’s all worth working for anyway. He’s irreverent but not distasteful, with casual discussion of homosexual pedophilia and brief anecdotes about his severe OCD; how those stories still end up being tasteful is beyond me, but he manages to do it and make it look easy.

The one thing that I always end up dwelling on when I finish these non-fiction, essay-collection type books is this: can all of these insane things really have happened to one person? I don’t doubt that he’s telling the truth, and that his stories are true, but then I also think it’s half in the telling. Like, all of the crazy things that have provided Sedaris with enough material to write as many books as he has essentially just add up to having a pretty dysfunctional family, which led to some dysfunctional events. At the same time, though, I can’t think of one person I know who doesn’t have a dysfunctional family.

I think most of what Sedaris writes about could have happened (or maybe has happened) to a lot of different people, bu it’s his incredibly dry, witty, sometimes morbid take on every situation that makes his life worth reading about. Which is so interesting to me. Obviously, writers are naturally better story tellers – that’s why they’re writers. But  he gives me hope, through his insane-but-also-sort-of-ordinary life and how he writes about it, that really any situation can be funny, meaningful, and can make for a great story. It’s all in how you spin it.

Biggest takeaway though (and this is true of pretty much every Sedaris book I’ve read): his ability to mock but also pine after a lot of elements that make life meaningful for others makes is what makes him an amazing writer. He becomes that much more amazing and easier to relate to when he turns that lens on himself, and reveals to the reader a self-conscious, self-loathing, sometimes cold and sometimes horrible person who’s just as guilty of being selfish as anyone else. In fact, he often makes himself out to be worse than everyone else. It becomes that much more impressive when I can finish a chapter in which he’s just held out hope for the chance deaths of his landlord’s young daughters, or wished his siblings dead so his mother and he could appear higher class, only to find myself still feeling personally involved with this guy, and rooting for him in every weird situation he gets himself into. ◊

‘We both love bacon and country music, what more could you possibly want?’ What more could he want? It was an incredibly stupid question and when he failed to answer, I was reminded of just how lucky I truly am. Movie characters might chase each other through the fog or race down the stairs of burning buildings, but that’s for beginners. Real love amounts to withholding the truth, even when you’re offered the perfect opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings.”

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