Oddball neighbours, adopted spiders, parental art collections, overefficient houseguests, bad attempts at poetry and more successful one at fending off noisy birds with album covers - this collection of essays covers all that and more; and it’s capped off with a chronicle of a quit-smoking process in which cigarettes are replaced with the ultimate distraction - trying to learn a language for which he has no talent whatsoever.
Throughout the book I found myself nodding vigorously - at the challenges of being short, Sedaris’s poor foreign language skills and sense of direction (oh, how I can relate!), and the social awkwardness of being a non-drinker. (If he thinks it’s awkward having quit drinking, he should see the reactions when you tell people you never started.) I also broke out in giggles while reading about the various germophobes in his life, the skeleton-shopping expedition and the subsequent bone-shedding, and the catalogue of fashion disasters. Couldn’t fathom his problem with glasses, though - surely if you just choose simple frames you’ll never have to look back and cringe. But then, I would never dream of taking the “if it’s more than six feet away I’ll deal with it when I get there” approach to life, which sounds highly impractical and not at all suited to people-watching.
I enjoyed reading this collection and spent most of the time smiling. Nevertheless I couldn’t help comparing Sedaris to various Courier-Mail columnists, which worked out well in favour of the locals. He’s good at combining humour, satire, and depth, but take those qualities individually and Mike O’Connor, Paul Syvret, and Kathleen Noonan (respectively) beat him, even if they do have the disadvantages of lower word counts and frequent close ties to current events. I doubt any scene from this book will stay with me like the image of Syvret’s memory of nearly torching his bathroom in an attempt to exterminate a huntsman; and I would love to see someone publish a Noonan anthology. Also, I couldn’t grasp (or approve) Sedaris’s apparent serene conviction that spending years of your life experimenting with whatever illegal chemical cocktail comes your way is somehow normal - or at least nothing extraordinary.
It’s good light entertainment, but I suspect it will soon be largely forgotten.