Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fun and Repulsive

I read a book by the pool today while energetic kids splashed all around (and I huddled in a sweatshirt -- this is a strange land where people think it is hot when it is a chilly 25 degrees out there. Centigrade. And every time I laughed out loud, I'd look up and do a head count to make sure no one I had brought to the pool had drowned. Since I was reading a David Sedaris book, I figured this was a safe period of time. Naked is an older collection, from 1997, but I missed it; I was abroad for most of that year.

Sedaris ruthlessly displays his family (especially himself) in the harsh light of his cynical and naive autobiographical essays. He innocently and confidingly trusts that we can all laugh at the selfish and narcissistic viewpoint he brings to his life, and we do laugh because it reminds and reassures us of the echoing voice inside us. He sees himself clearly, skewering his memory of using his mother's fatal illness to win sympathy at work. "Here we could get the sympathy without enduring any of the symptoms. And we deserved sympathy, didn't we?" I laughed out loud while recognizing the real grief involved.

At the end of the book, I was glad to be in a world with books by Sedaris in it. And I was glad that the man in the essays (who probably is very different from the real David Sedaris -- these works are highly polished and aren't meant to be historically accurate) was not in my social circle. I prefer people a little better at hiding their naked self-interest. So this is my new genre, books with characters wonderful to read about but who would be horrid to meet in real life. I'd put Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid books in this category -- Greg is actually a really lousy friend and brother.

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