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Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls Paperback – June 3, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013: If you’ve read any of David Sedaris’s previous works, you know what you’re in for with his latest book Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Sedaris is an author who has no legitimate reason to change his approach to writing--he’s taken the snarky, sometimes crude, often hilarious, ultimately thought-provoking personal essay to the level of mastery. One could easily argue that he’s set the bar for observational comedy, and for that reason alone fans new and old will make each book he writes a publishing sensation. --Chris Schluep --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Following his foray into animal fables, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (2010), Sedaris returns to his signature form, the eviscerating comic essay. He draws on a seemingly bottomless well of appalling childhood memories revolving around his mounting fears about being unlike other boys. There’s a stinging account of swimming competitions during which his irascible father vociferously championed his son’s rival, a courageously candid tale of his courtship of a shy African American girl, and an unnerving confession of his inept handling of captured baby sea turtles. Moving on to more worldly episodes, Sedaris recalls encounters with strangers on trains and offers hilarious perspectives on French health care and shopping at Costco. An acute observer and master of the quick, excoriating takedown, Sedaris claims new territory in this exceptionally gutsy and unnerving collection, creating dark and mischievous monologues in other voices, such as the brilliantly vicious “Just a Quick E-Mail” and an alarming rant by a Christian fascist. Sedaris casts penetrating light on a world of cruelty, inanity, and absurdity that is barely but surely redeemed by humor and love. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Sedaris-mania knows no bounds, and with a 20-city author tour and all-out media campaign, this will be a red-hot title. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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The owl in the title is stuffed. The author's partner, Hugh collected owl knick-knacks (not voluntarily--people started giving them to him when they found out he liked owls) and David wanted to top off his friend's collection with a stuffed owl. Unfortunately, taxidermists are not allowed to stuff owls in this country, even if the bird died of old age. When David and Hugh moved to France, they were stymied by the same law. However, although you can't kill an owl in England, you can have it stuffed once it's dead. David's trip to the English taxidermy shop is one of the highlights of this book:
"'If you like the odd bits and pieces, I think I've got something else you might enjoy.' The taxidermist retreated to the area behind his desk and pulled a plastic bag off an overhead shelf...From the bag he removed what looked like a platter with an oblong glass dome over it. Inside was a man's forearm, complete with little hairs and a smudged tattoo..."
The severed arm had a story behind it as do all of the odd bits and pieces that this author collects and shares with his readers. Some of the essays in "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls" are fantasies of what life might be like for a red-neck, right-wing voter. This is where the author ventures into Jonathan Swift's territory: heavy-handed satire, but witty. Very witty. These essays made me wonder what Sedaris thinks of the current Republican candidate for President.
I hope he writes an essay (or an entire book about the 2016 Presidential Race). He's one of the few authors who could do this subject justice.
Meanwhile, read this book and find out what David Sedaris thinks of the Chinese, Germans, the English, dentists, book tours, the lines at airports, and Pygmy skeletons.
There is an entire essay about journal writing. It's like he had to fill more pages for his publisher and just free-wrote about his journaling habits. I didn't find it funny or even remotely interesting.
That being said, this latest collection of essays feels mostly rushed and lacking in the details I have come to most look forward to in Sedaris' essays. At most, I was moved by three of his essays; most essayists would be lucky to achieve that number of affecting pieces in a collection; Sedaris, however, has set his own bar so high that "only" three is a disappointment.
Additionally, Sedaris' experiment of providing forensics pieces for teenagers to compete with were over-the-top ridiculous. As a Forensics coach and judge, I highly doubt any of the pieces here would work in a competitive meet. These "etc." pieces serve only to confuse the readers and break up otherwise semi-enjoyable reading. Perhaps if he were to flesh out these fictional short-stories and realized the characters and scenarios more fully, that's a new collection I would want to see from Sedaris!
I don't regret reading this book, but I wouldn't recommend it either.