Thursday, July 14, 2011

He Write Funny: A Review of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day

Title: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2000)
Pages: 272
How I Came by This Book: I took this one out of the library about eight or nine months ago when I was on a Sedaris kick and just now got around to reading it. This is, of course, the danger of having the staff privilege to be able to take books out for a year at a time.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Essayist David Sedaris once again leaves his readers gasping for air with his hilarious stories regarding his life. Whether he's talking about his family, past job experiences, or the two years he spent in France with his partner, Hugh, Sedaris lays it all bare in his humorous and thoughtful way.

Review: After the extreme disappointment that was Barrel Fever, I was counting on Me Talk Pretty One Day to restore my faith in David Sedaris. And did it ever. Entirely comprised of essays (thank gods, I don't think I could have taken any more short stories by him), this book is divided into two parts. The first is a series of essays that are about his life and his family, none of which conform to a single theme. The second half of the book, however, is focused on his time spent in France with his boyfriend, Hugh, and is why I get to count this as one of my choices for Paris in July. Both halves are hilariously funny, although, as a language geek, I preferred part deux to part one.

Sedaris' blend of self-deprecating wit, understated social commentary, and seemingly endless arsenal of crazy stories are what make him so much fun to read. His humor is often desert-dry but his essays have a strange brand of warmth which underscores a love for his family and a respect for the absurdity of life. Reading Sedaris is almost like sitting around a fire listening to someone tell stories, someone who has one of the best senses of humor you've ever encountered.

While not my favorite collection of his essays as a whole (that honor goes to When You Are Engulfed in Flames), part deux takes the prize for containing the single funniest essay I think Sedaris has ever written. Entitled "Jesus Shaves," the essay revolves around a French class he took while living in France with his partner, Hugh. The class was comprised of people from all over the globe, one of whom was a Muslim from Morocco. While discussing how to talk about holidays in French, this girl became confused as to what Easter was and, in their broken French, the students in the class who were from Christian backgrounds tried their best to explain. What makes this story fun for me is that I've learned several languages and I know how hard it is to express things when you're not quite sure how to say them with your limited vocabulary. What makes this story fun regardless of whether you've learned a language or not is the way in which the students try to express themselves in French. For example:

-"'It is,' said one, 'a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and...oh, shit.'" (p. 177)
-"'He call his self Jesus and then he die one day on two...morsels of...lumber.'" (p. 177)
-"'He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.'" (p. 177)

The whole exchange is hilarious, as is the ensuing discussion about the American Easter Bunny versus the French Easter Bell:
"No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome."
 I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"
 "Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"
 It was a decent point, but a least a rabbit has eyes. (p. 178)
Other great stories include "Go Carolina," which is about his first speech therapist; "City of Angels," which recounts the story of an obnoxious tourist in NYC; the titular story "Me Talk Pretty One Day," which is another story about the hardships of learning French; and "Remembering My Childhood on the Continent of Africa," in which Sedaris explains just how much cooler his boyfriend's childhood was than his own and why he sometimes steals stories from him to tell at parties. While the book as a whole is well-written and funny, these stories stick out in my memory more than the others.

I have yet to tire of reading about his life and am anxiously awaiting more from the man who has become my favorite essayist. As I said before, I'm glad that he seems to have given up on short stories, as they really aren't his strong point, but as long as he keeps putting out essays, I'll keep reading them.

I'm giving Me Talk Pretty One Day four and 1/2 out of five Gabriels.While I really enjoyed this book, I thought that Naked and While You Are Engulfed in Flames were both better.



  1. This was my first Sedaris, and therefore my favorite. I need to read While You Are Engulfed In Flames though!

  2. This is one of my favorite Sedaris books. My absolute favorite is Holidays on Ice. I never get tired of his stories either.

  3. I think my first was When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which is probably why it's my favorite. I've never read Holidays on Ice, although I have read the previously published stories in it. I'll have to check that out at some point.