Title: Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc.
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: Little Brown
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Review: Oh, David Sedaris. When a copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls arrived on my doorstep, I actually squealed because getting one his essay collections always delights me. Admittedly, I was pretty disappointed with his last collection, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, because it felt familiar and formulaic. In my review, I wrote that it seemed like Sedaris relied too heavily on a single formula — silly opening anecdote, story about Sedaris and family/Hugh, tangentially related anecdote, really great line, tangentially related anecdote, clever last line tying the story together. I also remember feeling like the book was a little over-the-top, like Sedaris was pushing too hard to make his stories funny.
I was so happy to discover that Sedaris decided to use a little more restraint in Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. The essays are extremely funny, but in a way that feels more realistic. They’re more subdued, but in a way that makes them feel richer and more reflective. They’re still full of Sedaris’ skewed and strange way of seeing the world, but it doesn’t feel quite so absurd this time around. The collection is delightful.
One of my favorite essays was one called “Standing By,” which is all about flight delays. It sounds boring, I suppose, but I loved the way Sedaris nailed how we all sort of respond the same way, being melodramatic and judge-y and not our best selves:
We’re forever blaming the airline industry for turning us into monsters: it’s the fault of the ticket agents, the baggage handlers, the slowpokes at the newsstands and the fast-food restaurants. But what if this is who we truly are, and the airport’s just a forum that allows us to be our real selves, not just hateful but gloriously so? … It’s a depressing thought and one that proved hard to shake.
That excerpt is a little dark, I suppose, but the essay isn’t really cheerful. Funny, a little twisted, and full of strange people, not exactly sunshine and rainbows. But I liked it anyway.
Sedaris intersperses the nonfiction essays with a series of fictional monologues (the Etc. of the subtitle) written in a series of personas — a religious zealot hoping to use Jesus to deal with some personal vendettas, a woman angry about a bad wedding gift, a man worried about what gay marriage will do to his marriage, and others. I think they fit into the greater scheme of the book because they’re, at least in part, about how people can misunderstand the world or have trouble seeing themselves for who they are, a flaw in himself that Sedaris writes about continually. If you’re politically conservative, I think this might border on the offensive, but since I’m more of a moderate I thought they were pretty funny caricatures.
If you are a fan of Sedaris, or are looking for a collection to get into him for the first time, you won’t be disappointed starting with this one. Although it feels quieter than some of his previous work, his restraint highlights what is so funny about his way of viewing the world.
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