Monday, September 15, 2008

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I was inspired to read this because of Elisabeth (Damn, that girl reads a lot of BOOKS!) and also because it was mentioned as a possibility for the now defunct (although I still get the automated e-mails!) book club. We read Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not which was co-written by Sedaris' sister Amy--along with Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert.

Me Talk Pretty is a series of essays about Sedaris' life and family. Split into two parts, the first recounts his childhood and family life while the second focuses mainly on his life in France with boyfriend Hugh and his less-than-stellar command of the French language. Most of the vignettes are humorous--some downright "snort milk out your nose" hysterical--although some worked better than others.

I tended to prefer the material in the first half of the book. Opening with a memory of speech therapy class in the fifth grade, Sedaris manages to convey the worldview of being a young boy (I could almost picture Ralphie from A Christmas Story as a young Sedaris) with the world-weary wisdom of his future self. The funniest part of his story is about his attempts to avoid using words with the "s" sound and thereby avoid future speech therapy classes:

"At school, where every teacher is a potential spy, I tried to avoid an s sound whenever possible. "Yes," became "correct," or a military "affirmative." "Please," became "with your kind permission," and questions were pleaded rather than asked. After a few weeks of what she called "endless pestering" and what I called "repeated badgering," my mother bought me a pocket thesaurus, which provided me with s-free alternative to just about everything."
This tactic leads to a sort of cat-and-mouse showdown with his speech therapy teacher:
"So," she said, "what are your plans for the holidays?"
"Well, I usually remain here and, you know, open a gift from my family."
"Only one?" she asked.
"Maybe eight or ten."
"Never six or seven?"
"Rarely," I said.
"And what do you do on December thirty-first, New Year's Eve?"
"On the final day of the year we take down the pine tree in our living room and eat marine life."
"Eat marine life." Oh, that cracked me up! But just when young David thinks he has outfoxed her:
"What can I say? As a speech teacher, I'm a complete failure."
She moved her hands toward her face, and I worried that she might start to cry. "Hey, look," I said. "I'm thorry."
"Ha-ha," she said. "I got you." She laughed much more than she needed to and was still at it when she signed the form recommending me for the following year's speech therapy program. "Thorry indeed. You've got some work ahead of you, mister."
I related the story to my mother, who got a huge kick out of it. "You've got to admit that you really are a sucker," she said.
I agreed but, because none of my speech classes ever made a difference, I still prefer to use the word chump.
I especially like his stories about his family: "The Youth in Asia" which recounted the numerous family pets with Sedaris opining: "Eulogies tended to be brief, our motto being Another day, another collar." Or "You Can't Kill the Rooster" about his brother Paul or "A Shiner Like a Diamond" about sister Amy. Makes me think I should be delving into my own family remembrances for material. Like my sister Laurie, who when very young used to hide uneaten sandwiches in the basement, then went on to subsist on a diet of TAB and giant Sweet-tarts for many years and now is an unabashed foodie.

Or David, who was the baby of the family and whose hero was Mr. Rogers when he was little. If we wanted to make David cry, we would just taunt him by saying, "Mr. Rogers is a NERD!" To which he would respond totally distraught, "No he is NOT!!!" Ah--good times, good times! James was our own personal "Rooster"--although he was dubbed with the unwanted nickname "Turkey" by friends. He just turned it into "Turk" or "The Turk."

James holds the family record for most accident-prone. He had to have his stomach pumped several times because of his tendency to eat or drink just about anything, put a hole in his foot when he got it caught under the wheel of a wagon attached to a mini-bike and had to have his front teeth stitched back in when he tripped in a movie theater and hit his mouth on the back of one of the seats.

Yeah, I can definitely relate to David Sedaris' musings about his family. And we're both fans of One Life to Live to boot!


  1. I've been a HUGE fan of Sedaris for years - did you see my review on his new book?

  2. I just scooted on over to your blog to check it out.

    I'll add that one to my reading list--but next up is the latest Neal Stephenson tome.