Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The American humorist David Sedaris is famed for his self-deprecating wit and his good-natured take on life. He has written nine books compiling his essays and stories now, plus loads of journalism, plays and more. I first encountered him on radio – he’s recorded many of his essays for BBC Radio 4, (sadly none are available on listen again at the moment).
We chose Sedaris’ breakthrough volume Me Talk Pretty One Day for our book group this month. We like to throw an occasional non-fiction book into the mix, and having read James Thurber’s autobiographical stories My life and hard times last summer, and some Garrison Keillor previously also, it was good to compare and contrast their styles.
MTPOD is split into two parts. The first half ‘One’ comprises tales from Sedaris’ childhood growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. The second half, ‘Deux’, chronicles episodes from the time he spent living in France with his partner Hugh.
I loved the first story Go Carolina which told of Sedaris’ battle with the school speech therapist who tried to get rid of his lisp – his ‘lazy tongue‘. In an aside he tells about his lazy family …
My sisters Amy and Gretchen were, at the time, undergoing therapy for lazy eyes, while my older sister, Lisa, had been born with a lazy leg that had refused to grow at the same rate as its twin. She’d worn a corrective brace for the first two years of her life, and wherever she roamed she left a trail of scratch marks in the soft pine floor. I liked the idea that part of one’s body might be thought of as lazy – not thoughtless or hostile, just unwilling to extend itself for the betterment of the team. My father often accused my mother of having a lazy mind, while she in turn accused him of having a lazy finger, unable to dial the phone when he knew damn well he was going to be late.
In Genetic Engineering I had to giggle along with his observations about his father when they were on holiday.
As youngsters, we participated in all the usual seaside activities – which were fun, until my father got involved and systematically chipped away at our pleasure. Miniature golf was ruined with a lengthy dissertation on impact, trajectory, and wind velocity, and our sand castles were critiqued with stifling lectures on the dynamics of the vaulted ceiling. We enjoyed swimming, until the mystery of tides was explained in such a way that the ocean seemed nothing more than an enormous saltwater toilet, flushing itself on a sad and predictable basis.
Most of our group found his essays on childhood and his family were more fun than his time in France, although his exasperation over his attempts to learn the language were fun…
Of all the stumbling blocks inherent in learning this language, the greatest for me is the principle that each noun has a corresponding sex that affects both its articles and its adjectives. Because it is a female and lays eggs, a chicken is masculine. Vagina is masculine as well, while the word masculinity is feminine. Forced by the grammar to take a stand one way of the other, hermaphrodite is male and indecisiveness female.
I spent months searching for some secret code before I realized that common sense has nothing to do with it.
Having a French/German language teacher in our group, the latter chapters about his attempts to learn French sparked off some good conversation about learning languages in general, but not so much about the book. Incidentally, the book’s title was about him mistranslating a phrase into French.
I enjoyed a lot of Sedaris’ writing in this volume, but did find that, as in his radio programmes which just feature a couple of articles, they were more fun in small doses. Similarly, those of our group who hadn’t heard him on the radio, weren’t so taken, preferring the gently rambling tales of Garrison Keillor, another author who broadcasts his work; we managed to forget about Thurber comparisons.
I would happily read some more small doses of Sedaris, but will definitely listen out for him on the radio. (6.5/10 as a book).
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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Abacus paperback, 272 pages.