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158 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rousing, Hilarious, And Touching Collection Of Essays... And Then Some
It's been five years since David Sedaris released his last collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. America's foremost humorist released Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary in 2010, which I really enjoyed, but I believe it's non-fiction where Sedaris really shines. His latest book, "Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls" takes us back to classic Sedaris,...
Published 21 months ago by Jack

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437 of 473 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware of rave reviews for this. As a Sedaris fan, honestly it's only pretty good.
As one who considers David Sedaris as the leading American humorist of this era, I honestly wished I had liked this collection more. Not that it is bad - you will probably love many of these pieces - but it is, overall, rather disappointing. Sometimes, as a reviewer, I wonder if my take on a book is "off" (perhaps I was in a bad mood when reading the book) and check to...
Published 21 months ago by D. Graves


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437 of 473 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware of rave reviews for this. As a Sedaris fan, honestly it's only pretty good., April 23, 2013
This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
As one who considers David Sedaris as the leading American humorist of this era, I honestly wished I had liked this collection more. Not that it is bad - you will probably love many of these pieces - but it is, overall, rather disappointing. Sometimes, as a reviewer, I wonder if my take on a book is "off" (perhaps I was in a bad mood when reading the book) and check to see what professional reviewers have to say. I was relieved to see that most had the same attitude towards this book. None gave the book anywhere close to a gushing and glowing 5-star review (then again, they don't care that on Amazon gushing 5-star reviews usually receive the most 'helpful' votes - as opposed to some Amazon reviewers).

It's been a long five years since David's last book of essays. This makes the new book more difficult to please: our expectations are so high, our desire to be amused so great, that anything less than than terrific is disappointing. I certainly wouldn't say that this collection is terrific. Nor is it nearly as good as his previous essay collections. Some of the essays are, in fact, excellent, but more than a few I felt were in the 'tortured-premise/contrived' category, and others were just bland.

Let's get the lesser essays out of the way first. What Sedaris does best is observational humor - seeing the hilarity in the details in life. Topical humor is usually the purview of lesser writers: having a topical premise for humor and torturing it (spreading it out) over a ten-page essay. Sadly, Sedaris takes a current topic, same-sex marriage, throws in a redneck, and ... hilarity ensues. Not. It's a contrived piece. And several of the pieces are not essays but entirely fictional short stories. It's as if David has exhausted his supply of hysterical anecdotes and observations from his life and is straining to fill the pages of a book. A rather long essay on the trials and travails of using Pimsleur foreign language programs in his travels is particularly bland. But, again, out of the 26 pieces, I would say that a slight majority are quite good.

The vast majority of pieces play to Sedaris' strengths: aspects of his childhood in North Carolina, the quirks of his adult life (his first colonoscopy), and the absurdities that the traveler encounters on his trails (buying a taxidermied owl in London). Several comic gems are among these essays: 'Rubbish', his relentless pursuit to tidy up the littered country roads in the part of England he resides in; 'Understanding Understanding Owls', his somewhat gruesome adventures in that London taxidermy shop; and the best, in my opinion, 'Laugh, Kookaburra', a funny yet profound and moving piece set in Australia. Others are excellent as well and make this collection worth your while to acquire and enjoy, even though it is not David's best.
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158 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rousing, Hilarious, And Touching Collection Of Essays... And Then Some, April 23, 2013
This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
It's been five years since David Sedaris released his last collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. America's foremost humorist released Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary in 2010, which I really enjoyed, but I believe it's non-fiction where Sedaris really shines. His latest book, "Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls" takes us back to classic Sedaris, as the author takes on a trip around the world with him. I truly enjoyed this book.

Although his self-deprecating stories are most effective at pointing out the absurdities in everyday life, and sometimes share similar formulas, it's a formula I find never gets old. To me, his writing is akin to curling up on the couch with your family in front of a large fire telling stories. It's comforting, familiar (in a good way), and full of belly laughs. This book continues the high quality of writing that I discovered over a decade ago with "Naked."

In one of my favorite stories from this book, Sedaris describes visiting a taxidermy shop in London, where he plans to buy a stuffed owl as a Valentine's Day present. Somehow he befriends the owner, who decides that David would be the type of person who would like to see what lies behind the curtain, that which the typical shoppers aren't allowed to see. Intrigued? Among the bizarre displays and specimens is a miniature human skeleton. What kind of human skeleton would be found here? I won't spoil the ending, but it's definitely not what you'd expect.

In addition to funny anecdotes on eating roosters in China, the bliss of colonoscopy sedation, dressing to ride on airplanes, and picking up garbage on the sides of roads, David includes some very touching scenes. My favorite, "Memory Laps," illustrates how he would dive for nickels with his sister in water so chlorinated, that the face on the coins would be eaten away. But as toxic as the chlorine was, it paled in comparison to the damage caused by his father's constant preference for another boy over him. The pain he felt is palpable. Reading these passages brought tears to my eyes.

His autobiographical pieces are definitely what I enjoyed most in this book. Although I'm not as big a fan of the six fiction pieces that are published here, I applaud Sedaris for reaching outside his comfort zone. The fiction works are told from various `different' points of view. Unlike the funny and sometimes poignant non-fiction pieces, however, I found these stories to come off as somewhat heavy-handed. I missed the Sedaris humor in these.

If, like me, you spent the last five years searching for a replacement for Sedaris in today's literary world, I have two suggestions for writers who can (temporarily) occupy his place. One of my favorites is Wade Rouse, a self-deprecating humorist who has published several collections of essays. His most popular, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life is a hoot (pun intended).

The other book I recommend to friends who are fans of Sedaris is Anthony Youn's In Stitches. It's a hilarious memoir of an awkward, self-described nerd who becomes a successful doctor. I'd describe it as "What If David Sedaris Wrote Scrubs (or Grey's Anatomy)."
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71 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sedaris lovers, there's plenty of What You Came For., April 28, 2013
This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
David Sedaris launched his career by reading a seriously funny story on NPR about working as a Christmas elf at Macys. Overnight, he became our humorist laureate, serving up personal history that is as ironic as our cultural reality. Now he's a star on the lecture circuit.

Sedaris fans blindly love every word he writes. Over the years, I've morphed into only an occasional fan. Because Sedaris has a problem: success. It's a trick to get people to care about your personal quirks and difficulties when you've sold more than 7 million books and own more than half a dozen residences on two continents. That this book is as good as it is is a considerable triumph.

Start with the flaws: "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls," at 275 pages, is padded with six pieces that are new for Sedaris. "Over the years I've met quite a few teenagers who participate in what is called 'Forensics,'" he writes. "Students take published short stories and essays, edit them down to a predetermined length, and recite them competitively. To that end, I have written six brief monologues that young people might deliver before a panel of judges. I believe these stories should be self-evident. They're the pieces in which I am a woman, a father, and a sixteen-year-old girl with a fake British accent."

Sounds good? They're easy targets. A critic has said: "They drip with contempt for the kind of teapartying middle American who loves guns and hates gay marriage."

Bitterness and contempt may be new tones for Sedaris, but that's understandable --- and, in other pieces, welcome. In "Dentists Without Borders," the book's lead-off essay, he chronicles his experiences with dentists in France. They are cheap, kind, efficient, charming in their way. But they're not American, so, really, how they can be any good? The answer is the last paragraph:

"I've gone from avoiding dentists and perodontists to practically stalking them, not in some quest for a Hollywood smile but because I enjoy their company. I'm happy in their waiting rooms, the coffee tables heaped with Gala and Madame Figaro. I like their mumbled French, spoken from behind Tyvek masks. None of them ever call me David, no matter how often I invite them to. Rather, I'm Monsieur Sedaris, not my father but the smaller, Continental model. Monsieur Sedaris with the four lower implants. Monsieur Sedaris with the good-time teeth, sweating so fiercely he leaves the office two kilos lighter. That's me, pointing to the bathroom and asking the receptionist if I may use the sandbox, me traipsing down the stairs in a fresh set of clothes, my smile bittersweet and drearied with blood, counting the days until I can come back and return myself to this curious, socialized care."

There is a horrific story called "Memory Laps," about the summer of his tenth year, when Sedaris swam in competition at a country club in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's not really about swimming --- the real subject is his absolute jerk of a father, who not only never praised him but had no trouble identifying and praising other males he believed were much more talented and praiseworthy. By story's end, I wanted to bitch slap Dad. But in a recent interview, Sedaris has a different view:

"I would never want anyone to think that I would have wanted a different father. I always acted against my father, right? And ['You're a big fat zero'] was really, that was his mantra when I was growing up. You know, 'What you are is a big fat zero,' but it's what got me out of bed every morning, thinking, 'Well, I'll show him.' And I don't know if my dad knew that. I don't know if it was part of his master plan, but it really worked. You know, my mom was a cheerful, supportive person, and so I didn't really need two parents like that. One was enough."

It's tempting to read a number of these stories as blasts against irrational male authority figures. But worry not, Sedaris lovers, there's plenty of What You Came For. A piece about a trip to Hawaii --- Sedaris is rich beyond rich now, he takes trips, a lot of trips, and because his writing is a kind of diary, you go around the world with him --- begins with the lei you get when you step off the plane: "an Olympic medal for sitting on your ass." Then it goes somewhere else, ending with a meditation on sea turtles. Gorgeous stuff.

A piece on flight delays gets to political outrage, but not before a stop at cultural observation:

"I should be used to the way Americans dress when travelling, yet still it manages to amaze me. It's as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge, saying, `F--- this. I'm going to Los Angeles!'"

"#2 to Go," about spitting and bathroom habits in China, is a scream. Vulgar? Yes. That's the foundation of the humor. The theft of a laptop. Picking up trash. It's all grist. As ever, great lines abound: "He was right on the edge, a screw-top bottle of wine the day before it turns to vinegar."

But it's the personal edginess that makes the book for me. "A Happy Place" is about his colonoscopy. He's encouraged, as he goes under, to go there. Where he does go --- let's just say Dad gets his. Not, if that happened, that Dad cared.

The title? It emerged, in bits and pieces, at a book signing, when he was searching for a clever inscription:

"This woman wanted me to write to her daughter: 'Explore your possibilities.' And I said, well, I'll keep the word explore. And then I wrote: let's explore diabetes - then I thought I'm not done yet - with owls. And then I thought: That's the title of my book."

Anything else you want to know? Go to the book.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea, May 16, 2013
By 
Emily Harmon (Bloomington, IN) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
As someone who is not an avid Sedaris fan, it didn't appeal to me as much as I'd hoped. Most of the stories were strung together haphazardly, and the comedy was kind of awkward and weird. I felt the stories were a little entertaining, but not as much funny as they were just strange, uncomfortable, and a little contrived. I've had friends tell me that this is just his style, but if you aren't entertained by awkward situations it may not end up an enjoyable read. I am proud to say I finished it, but found myself bored by the end. If you are a Sedaris fan, I say go for it- if you are unfamiliar with him, I say check up on his comedy style before proceeding.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not up to par, May 17, 2013
By 
Dennis (Corrales, NM) - See all my reviews
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Most of David Sedaris books, especially his own narrated audios are superb. This one is not. The taxidermy tales are tasteless, the French vignettes are boring and the family sagas are old, boring and depressing.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, June 29, 2013
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This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
I love Sedaris, but this is by far the worst book of his I've read. It's lazy, mean spirited and obnoxious through and through. And, worst of all, it's not really funny, not even a little bit. Go back and reread one of his earlier collections, it's a much better use of your time.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Probably Won't Buy Another Sedaris Book, May 10, 2013
By 
Matthew Sullivan (Charlottesville, VA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
Sedaris's last two books (Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls) just haven't hit the high mark he set with his previous books. His typically self-defeating humor has turned entirely too political and polarizing in this book. While some were insightful and thought-provoking, he seemed to be reaching for topics in his latest book, which is evidenced by his resorting to third-person short stories. I'm very disappointed.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Somehow it's not funny anymore, May 3, 2013
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Success has caught up with David Sedaris, and it isn't particularly funny. It's great that he and Hugh can buy houses in England, and it's a shame that it's so hard to get a permanent residence visa, but it's nothing to ask others to chuckle over. The monologues are stereotypical rants. The only thing memorable is that the author sounds rather bitter.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing for this Sedaris fan, April 26, 2013
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This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
I've been a Sedaris fan for years and pre-ordered Owls. I wanted to love it or at least like it. These essays just aren't funny. Perhaps his life is too good now for sardonic wit?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so funny, May 20, 2013
This review is from: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Hardcover)
While Sedaris is usually consistently funny, this is not. Some chapters I had to jump to the end. I hope Sedaris will get back to telling his stories and not create third person stories.
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Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (Hardcover - April 23, 2013)
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