Me Talk Pretty One Day contains far more than just the funniest collection of autobiographical essays - it quite well registers as a manifesto about language itself. Wherever there's a straight line, you can be sure that Sedaris lurks beneath the text, making it jagged with laughter; and just where the fault lines fall, he sits mischievously perched at the epicenter of it all. David Sedaris's new collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day, tells a most unconventional life story. It begins with a North Carolina childhood filled with speech-therapy classes ("There was the lisp, of course, but more troubling than that was my voice itself, with its excitable tone and high, girlish pitch") and unwanted guitar lessons taught by a midget. From budding performance artist ("The only crimp in my plan was that I seemed to have no talent whatsoever") to "clearly unqualified" writing teacher in Chicago, Sedaris's career leads him to New York (the sky's-the-limit field of furniture moving) and eventually, of all places, France. Sedaris's move to Paris poses a number of challenges, chief among them his inability to speak the language. Arriving a "spooky man-child" capable of communicating only through nouns, he undertakes language instruction that leads him ever deeper into cultural confusion. Whether describing the Easter bunny to puzzled classmates, savoring movies in translation (It is Necessary to save the Soldier Ryan), or watching a group of men play soccer with a cow, Sedaris brings a view and a voice like no other--"Original, acid, and wild," said the Los Angeles Times--to every unforgettable encounter."--Jacket.
I enjoy cranky essayists, but I expect them to have something that they do like when venting their thoughts on something they don't. I sensed none of that in these essays...just pushing nouns up against verbs in order to blow something up, not to point to something better. When poking fun at his brother for being white trash, I couldn't help but think...were his brother any other way...Sedaris would be poking at him for being white bread. When ranting about computers being inferior to typewriters, I couldn't help but feel that, if the former didn't exist, he'd be ranting that typewriters were nothing compared to the fountain pen.
Once he gets to France, I found some of this impression eased and I laughed a bit more. His encounter with the Americans who thought him to be French was quite funny.
However, in the final analysis, I never found myself overcome with laughter such as when I read Trillin or someone of that ilk. Sedaris just isn't my cup of tea.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a rough autobiography of writer and humorist David Sedaris. I say a “rough” autobiography because it is not told in chronological order, nor is it a straightforward chronological account of the events of his life. Instead, he presents life as a series of vignettes, some of which are from when he was a small child (such as his struggles with his speech therapist), from his college years (and his dabbling in drugs and performance art), with the last 1/3 chronicling his experiences as an American in France.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is extremely funny in parts. As a New Yorker, I especially liked his observations working for a moving company in New York City. (As anyone who has lived in New York long enough can tell you, conversations inevitably always turn to real estate if you get m ore than two of us in a room together). For example:
It was generally agreed that a coffin-size studio on Avenue D was preferable to living in one of the boroughs. Moving from one Brooklyn or Staten Island neighborhood to another was fine, but unless you had children to think about, even the homeless saw it as a step down to leave Manhattan. Customers quitting the island for Astoria or Cobble Hill would claim to welcome the change of pace, saying it would be nice to finally have a garden or live a little closer to the airport. They’d put a good face one it, but one could always detect an underlying sense of defeat. The apartments might bigger and cheaper in other places, but one could never count on their old circle of friend making the long trip to attend a birthday party. Even Washington Heights was considered a stretch. People referred to it as Upstate New York, though it was right there in Manhattan.
However, I found that autobiographies (no matter how good they are) often become relentlessly self-indulgent in parts, and this book is no exception to the rule. For instance, in one vignette Sedaris describes a series of dreams that he often has. This particular section doesn’t fit as well with his other stories about living in France and seemed to drag on and on.
All in all, not great literature, but a fun read nevertheless. I read it on the plane ride from New York to Amsterdam, and it was perfect for that kind of trip. Mindless and entertaining, to pass the time.
I'm not quite sure I get the point of books like this (or "Travelling Mercies" or "Pitching My Tent" which are the same style). I don't mean that negatively, because as the rating indicates I clearly liked it, but it's not quite a memoir, not quite an autobiography... so what is it? What made the author choose to write this book of seemingly unconnected anecdotes, and what is it that made it so interesting for people to read? (And if he can't, why can't I? ;) )
I still don't have a good answer to those questions, but have simply come to the conclusion that whether or not I understand the purpose of them, I do enjoy books like this, and that may be purpose enough. I especially enjoyed reading about David Sedaris' troubles with learning the French language. I never felt that way about learning English (fortunately), but it reminded me very vividly of my experience with learning German... a language that I never took to, and have now mostly forgotten, but where I found myself grasping for words and coming up with exceedingly more convulted sentences as I tried to find the words I needed, and avoid any use of gender-based grammar!
Perhaps the fact that I, too, have gone through the process of learning French as a second language is to blame. He never really said anything I, or someone I know, hadn't already noticed.
Or maybe the reason I didn't like this book is because I have a hard time relating to a frivolous- to- the- point- of- insanity gay man. Who knows?
I didn't enjoy this book one iota. Don't read it. Don't let other people read it. Don't even look at it's LT page. WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE? ESCAPE WHILE YOU STILL CAN!
Each chapter in the book is its own story (I'm tempted to call them vignettes, but I'm not sure as to the accuracy of the term), and the first half of the book focuses mainly on Sedaris's formative and college years. In the opening story, Sedaris relates his experience with speech therapy in fifth grade. Having been diagnosed with a 'lazy tongue' by his speech therapist, he begins a mission to avoid the letter S 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 my a pocket thesaurus, which provided me with s-free alternatives to just about everything. I consulted the book both at home in my room and at the daily learning academy other people called our school. Agent Samson was not amused when I began referring to her as an articulation coach, but the majority of my teachers were delighted." (pg. 11)
In the book's second half, Sedaris is living in France and battling the language and culture barrier. Personally, I found this second part to be better than the first, possibly because I could relate a little more to his adventures with masculine and feminine articles.
"It's a pretty grim world when I can't even feel superior to a toddler. Tired of embarrassing myself in front of two-year-olds, I've started referring to everything in the plural, which can get expensive but has solved a lot of my problems. [...] A masculine kilo of feminine tomatoes presents a sexual problem easily solved by asking for two kilos of tomatoes. I've started using the plural while shopping, and Hugh has stated using it in our cramped kitchen, where he stands huddled in the corner, shouting, 'What do we need with four pounds of tomatoes?' [...] Hugh tells me the market is off-limits until my French improves. he's pretty steamed, but I think he'll get over it when he sees the CD players I got him for his birthday." (pg. 191)
Sedaris also deals with the challenge of trying to explain Easter -- in his fledgling French -- to a fellow language student. This particular chapter had me laughing out loud, and also annoying my mother. But when I made her stop what she was doing -- it's okay, she was only watching the news -- to read it, she cracked up herself.
I'm not sure that David Sedaris is for everybody -- he has a dry delivery style, and if you read too quickly, you might miss some of the less-in-your-face funny bits. I totally enjoyed this book, though, and will probably pick up another of his books in the near future.
Sedaris' irreverence and dry humor sucked me in so completely. Nothing is sacred.
Me Talk Pretty One Day was the first of his books I read and after that I knew I was hooked. It remains my favorite of his, though that might be because it was my first. It's a collection of 26 essays, mainly dealing with Sedaris' personal life and experiences.
Whether he telling stories about his unconventional family, dealing with a lisp or trying to learn how to speak French, he brings an absurdity to the most banal situations.
"You Can't Kill the Rooster" is Sedaris' story about his hillbilly brother... who refers to himself as "the rooster." It's one of my favorites in the bunch. I first read it, then later listened to Sedaris read it and it literally made me laugh so hard I was crying. He does a squealing, high-pitched imitation of his brother's voice, which is too ridiculous to be far from the truth.
Yes Sedaris can be crude and occasionally the situations he finds himself in are a bit disturbing, but he tells the stories in a way that's irresistible. I once attended a reading he gave and was thrilled to discover he was even funnier in person. If you've never read anything of his I would highly recommend starting with this book and get the audio version if you can!
"I noticed an uncommon expression on Alisha's face. It was the look of someone who's discovered too late that she's either set her house on fire or committed herself to traveling with the wrong person."