Years ago, when I worked in a book store, I was told by countless people that I should read something by David Sedaris. “You’ll like him!”, people advised. They didn’t really give me much of a description beyond that, though, and this left the work of David Sedaris as something of a mystery.
I am someone who has a tendency to gather up more books than I have the time to read. A recent Spring Cleaning revealed that I have an entire shelf of books, stacked sideways, with a row in back and one in front, of books that I have been meaning to read. It also resulted in a second stack of books that I managed to read, but didn’t find time to review.
Although my intent is to get through all of them before I buy more, I know full well that the next time I walk into a thrift store I will find myself buying one or two more books that I intend to read. It was in one of those trips to a thrift store that resulted in my purchase of Me Talk Pretty One Day. Now, I’m the one telling other people that they should read something by David Sedaris, and trying to come up with an apt description of the book that says more than “You’ll like him!”
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a memoir, of sorts, that is presented in the form of 28 short stories. Each is funny, unflinchingly honest, and a unique way to look at the world. The stories range from when Sedaris was a child, through adolescence, college years, and adulthood. His family included parents and siblings that were rather unique in their outlook on life, too, so you can imagine how outlandish some of the events in the stories are. Sedaris has a flare for the dramatic that is incredibly entertaining and that flows right in to the scene he is describing.
The title of the book comes from a story that is also called Me Talk Pretty One Day that appears a little more than halfway through the book. Without giving away too much of the book, the story describes his experience as an American in France who only spoke English and who decided to take a French class. He was forty-one years old at the time.
The class was taught by an impatient and easily angered teacher who was verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive to the adult students in her class. The other students came from Poland, Yugoslavia, Japan, and other places around the globe, which meant that at the start of the class most of them lacked a common language with the other students.
Eventually, they began learning just enough French to speak short sentences to each other, in “broken-French”. There was a day where the teacher picked on David Sedaris more than usual because his French wasn’t very good. A fellow classmate tried to cheer him up by telling him: “Much work, and someday you talk pretty”. Hence, the title of the story as well as the book.
The cover of the book, as you can see in the photo above, looks as though the title had been written on a chalkboard. This fits into the first story in the book, which takes place when Sedaris was a child at school who had to go to speech therapy. He had a lisp. His insights into how students were selected for speech therapy are interesting (and had little to do with the existence of a speech impediment). He imagines his speech therapist as an agent from the government who comes to his classroom and brings him to a small room of the type where police interrogate criminals. The story is called Go Carolina and the reader finds out the meaning right away.
In between, Sedaris brings us a story about his experience as a college student who created bizarre performance art with a group of fellow artist/drug addicts, stories about family pets, stories that explain how and why he ended up in France, and even one about a toilet that wouldn’t flush. Even something mundane and unmentionable as that is turned into a really funny story when Sedaris writes it. I am looking forward to reading more of his work.