On the Road with David Sedaris

David Sedaris brings you into his life and adventures with his 9th and probably best book yet, Calypso.  The 21 stories and personal essays will amuse, shock and lead to an understanding of the family and brilliance of Sedaris.

He’ll take you to Tokyo where he and sister Amy buy absurd clothing (clown pants with suspenders, a trio of hats meant to be worn together) that ‘refuse to flatter.’

He’ll show you what he goes through in his attempt to make a wild fox his friend.

He’ll take you to the post-dinner dining room table of his youth where he and his 4 siblings would vie for their chance to either light their mom’s cigarette or tell her their daily story. Mom Sedaris would give helpful notes to each (“lose the part about the teacher….” or “cut to the chase here…”)

You’ll go with him on his Fitbit-induced walks from his countryside home in Sussex. By the time he works up to 60,000 steps a day, he’s sporting a grabber in one hand and a big garbage bag in the other. He imagines stories to go along with each piece of interesting garbage. Neighbors report to his long-suffering boyfriend, Hugh, such things as “We saw David in Arundel pick up a dead squirrel with his grabbers” or “We saw him outside Steyning rolling a tire down the side of the road.”

Hugh, seemingly in permanent eye-roll mode, has a lot to contend with when the rest of the Sedaris clan are around. And they’re around a lot after Sedaris buys a beach house off the coast of North Carolina. The vacation home, purposefully without any TV, gives Sedaris and his 90+ year old father Lou, brother (plus sister-in-law and niece) and four sisters a place to be together on holidays. The four sisters become three in the aftermath of the youngest one’s suicide. This fact is dealt with off and on throughout the book in the inimitable fashion of Sedaris.

Sedaris finds his always critical father has been replaced by a nicer more agreeable one. And while Sedaris admits it makes a better story to hang onto the cantankerous Dad he remembers from his youth, he still makes a good case for holding a grudge. David is the only one taken out of Dad’s will after a particularly spectacular argument.

Sedaris writes beautifully about the moment the two found common ground. “Just Listen,” his dad commands the 15 year-old, as he goes about playing John Coltrane’s ‘I wish I knew” and Betty Carter’s “Beware My Heart.”  I won’t spoil it for you by quoting the ending here. You’ll just have to read the book for yourself. And, when you get to page 141 and 142, you might want to que the music and JUST READ!

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Warmth of Other Suns coverThe other day I was walking out with an armload of books on CD, and Richard our audio book selector got all excited because he thought I was getting non-fiction (something he’d like to see checked out more). Shamefacedly I had to admit that it was all fiction, and that I had been slacking a bit on listening to anything factual. His enthusiasm for promoting our non-fiction audio books inspired me to put some of my selections back and browse the other shelves.

I’ve always been a big non-fiction reader, but for some reason this passion hasn’t translated well to audio books. I have a long commute and like to pass the time listening to stories. I’ve found them to be easier to listen to in the little 35 minute drives I have to do throughout the week because I don’t have to pay too close attention to make sure I’m not missing any important points. It’s also easier to pick up where I left off if I haven’t listened in a while because we’ve been using the other car; often with non-fiction audio books I have to rewind a bit to refresh my memory. The only things that combat these issues for me when listening to non-fiction books is to find ones that are written in a very narrative style and have great readers.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of non-fiction audio books that I’ve listened to recently that have kept me enthralled from start to finish.

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (read by Robin Miles). I guess if you need a place to start, choosing a Pulitzer Prize winning book generally isn’t a bad idea. Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by tracing the paths of four African-Americans who migrated north and west to escape the Jim Crow world of the South. Because the author interviewed all four individuals, the book is rich with dialogue and personal stories. Miles does an excellent job of reading Wilkerson’s work, making each individual’s personality shine through, and adding appropriate emphasis and emotion to some of the more difficult passages.

Mushroom Hunters coverThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook (read by Kevin R. Free). Foodie, traveler, hiker, lover of the Pacific Northwest – no matter what you consider yourself to be, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about this title. Mushroom Hunters reads like investigative journalism mixed with Food Network programming (in the best way possible). Cook tells the story of his quest to learn about the secret not-always-legal world of commercial mushroom harvesting in the Pacific Northwest. I really enjoyed driving back and forth on Highway 2 as Free described the kinds of lush rainy mountains that surrounded me, and all the secret things that may be happening in them.

Detroit cover imageDetroit: an American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff (read by Eric Martin). This is a book that I would have loved even if Mickey Mouse was reading it, but Eric Martin’s narration took it from good to perfection for me.  Martin’s gravelly no-nonsense delivery perfectly matches the tone of LeDuff’s vignettes of the rough, hard-working, beautiful, disturbing, hopeful, and troubled City of Detroit. This book isn’t another work of ruin porn aimed at exploiting what befell Detroit after the decline of its industrial might. It’s the honest collected experiences of a journalist who has spent his entire career covering every side of a city that seems to be almost universally hated and feared by the rest of America. No predictions are made about the future. No excuses are made for the past. It’s just the facts as he saw them happen, and it’s dark, light, and magnificent.

Naked coverNaked, by David Sedaris (read by the author and his sister, comedian/actress Amy Sedaris). Ending on a lighter note, I just have to say I’m a sucker for David Sedaris in any format, but I think experiencing his writing performed by himself is always the best. Whether it be appearances on This American Life, or full-length readings of one of his many titles, you’d be hard-pressed to not be entertained. Well, at least you would be if you and I share a similar sense of humor. In Naked, Sedaris tells stories about his upbringing; considering that his family spawned two comedians, you know things had to be unorthodox.  Even though he may be describing something completely ridiculous, his sense of humor remains dry and ironic. This tone is amplified when you hear him perform his work. His readings are so well-timed and pitch perfect that it’s almost impossible to later read something of his without hearing his voice in your head.

I hope some of these recommendations inspire you to treat yourself to some of the many excellent non-fiction audio titles we have in our collections. I know I’ll continue exploring!