Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a short story/essay collection by David Sedaris.
Finished on: 27.2.2016

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of (more or less) autobiographical short stories that often revolve around the topic of language, include David’s father Lou at several points and more often than not are very, very funny. Sedaris’ sharp wit, his self-deprecating sense of humor and his way to create vibrant characters out of his family members makes the entire thing work, even though, as usual, there were some stories I liked more than others.

sedaris_metalkprettyonedayAfter the jump I’ll talk about each of the stories individually.

Go Carolina

David had a lisp as a child, so he was sent to a speech therapist in school. But he wasn’t quite so cooperative as people had hoped.
I really liked this story. It perfectly illustrates that you can’t force therapy on anyone (and what’s so bad about a lisp anyway?).

Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities

David’s father Lou signs David up for guitar lessons. David’s teacher turns out to be a dwarf which is infinitely more interesting to David than any guitar.
I had my issues with this story. The way it deals with dwarfism is sensationalistic and ableist and that certainly did my opinion of the story no good.

Genetic Engineering

Lou is an engineer who loves to find out how things work – which is exactly how the rest of the Sedaris family is not.
The story was nice, but not too memorable, I’m afraid.

Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist

David decides to become a performance artist and that’s best achieved while high on methamphetamines.
I hope that a lot of the stuff Sedaris writes about here is gravely exaggerated or made up because if too much of it is real, my laughter would be completely inappropriate. But I assume that things were augmented for the sake of the essay and so I could grin pretty freely about it.

You Can’t Kill the Rooster

Paul is the youngest Sedaris sibling and he has a very special way of expressing himself.
The Rooster has become a bit of a bon mot in my family. It’s simply a hilarious story very well told and one of my favorites of the collection.

The Youth in Asia

The Sedarisses had a lot of pets and very different relationships with them.
I was reminded of many stories with pets we had in our family while reading this story, and when it comes to the dog that the Sedaris parents get after the kids all moved out, I was crying with laughter. When Sedaris talks about the cat he had to put down, though, I was crying for real.

The Learning Curve

David is offered the job as a writing teacher on rather short notice. His preparation is mostly spent on his image and less on the course contents.
In this story Sedaris sardonically portrays himself. This kind of savage disregard for his own vanity while showing that he simply is a very vain person is what makes the story work. I had fun with it.

Big Boy

David is invited to an Easter dinner at a friend’s house. When he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, he finds an unflushed turd and panics because people will believe it was his.
Maybe this essay was the inspiration for the Broad City episode where Ilana is the toilet ninja. In any case, I saw that episode before I read the story and I think I like the Broad City version better.

The Great Leap Forward

After David moves to New York, he’s desperate for cash. When he is hired as a personal assistant, things seem to have been solved. At first.
This story felt a little disjointed, more like two half-essays glued together than one whole essay. But be that as it may, I enjoyed reading it.

Today’s Special

David and his boyfriend Hugh go to a fancy restaurant, prompting David to rant against the conceited modern cuisine.
Fancy food is a popular thing to make fun of (or maybe it just feels that way to me because my brother is a cook) and Sedaris doesn’t particularly contribute anything new to that.

City of Angels

David gets visitors from North Carolina in New York: an old friend and a friend of hers. The latter, unfortunately, doesn’t really know how to appreciate New York.
This story was very much fun – I particularly enjoyed the climax that I didn’t see coming in that way.

A Shiner Like a Diamond

Lou has always been obsessed with his daughters’ weight. When Amy acquires the bottom half of a fat suit, she decides to prank her father.
That story didn’t work very much for me, although it did make me like Amy a whole lot. But there’s an undercurrent of fathate that transcends Lou’s perspective and that I didn’t like.

Lou always dreamed of a world where computers are connected with each other through an invisible network, while David would rather type everything on a typewriter.
Again, this is a nice story but it’s not really a stand-out in this collection.

See You Again Yesterday

David started to become convince that he would never find a partner, when he met Hugh who was great and had a holiday home in Normandy which the two of hem visited.
I like the stories where Sedaris is a little mean to his literary alter ego and this one is one of those stories. Otherwise it wasn’t much more than okay though.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

When David moved to France with Hugh, he returned to school to learn French. Which is slightly overwhelming for him.
When Sedaris writes about his sadistic teacher, it’s all too familiar. Probably all of us have had the pleasure at one point or another to suffer under a teacher like that. That it ends pretty well for him in this story is the only point I take objection to.

Jesus Shaves [also featured in Holidays on Ice]

David and his French class try to explain the meaning of Easter. In French. It doesn’t really work that well.
This story I could read over and over again, so I didn’t mind at all that it was there a second time.

The Tapeworm Is In

David buys a walkman and language learning tapes to get his French really off the ground.
As somebody who is practically unable to learn anything by just listening (I need writing if I am to have any chance at all), the idea of walking around listening to tapes and learning a language that way is rather weird. But it seems to work for Sedaris – and the way he writes about it, is certainly entertaining.

Make That a Double

As an English native speaker, David really struggles with the grammatical gender assignment.
As a German native speaker, I’m used to a weirdly gendered language that doesn’t make much sense. But I get that these things are weird, so rant against it all you can. And when you do it funnily, like Sedaris does here, it’s even better.

Remembering My Childhood on the Continent of Africa

Hugh’s childhood was exciting and full of adventure. David remembers it well.
I liked the theory of this story – David kind of sucking Hugh’s childhood into his own life – much more than I liked the actual story. It was nice enough, it just didn’t impress me.

21 Down

David is a competitive person and crossword puzzles seem a good way to compete with himself.
At one point in this story, Sedaris writes:

When asked “What do we need to learn this for?” any high-school teacher can confidently answer that, regardless of the subject, the knowledge will come in handy once the student hits middle age and starts working crossword puzzles in order to stave off the terrible loneliness.

And for that alone I really like the story.

The City of Light in the Dark

Living in Paris, David finds himself going to the movies more and more, watching American films (but with subtitles in French, so it’s all to study the language).
I lived abroad for a while and while I did, I really missed German, so I can totally understand the impulse, absurd as it may be, to spend your time abroad watching nothing but films in your first language. Though of course Sedaris takes it to even bigger heights.

I Pledge Allegiance to the Bag

As an American living in Paris, David does have to deal with certain stereotypes.
This story is maybe more fun if you’re American, or at least an American with a certain kind of view of the USA.

Picka Pocketoni

David is riding on the subway in Paris when he overhears an American couple of tourist discussing him being a pick-pocket.
I laughed tears during this stories that features every horrible tourist cliché that you can possibly imagine, but in the best way. Definitely one of my favorites.

I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed

David and Hugh go to the Festival of Saint Anne where David expands on his desire to see dramatic events so he can talk about them.
This story didn’t quite take off for me. It wasn’t bad per se, it just didn’t find its pace.

Smart Guy

As an adult, David gets his IQ tested together with Hugh and is shocked that the latter scored higher than him.
It was a nice story, but one that doesn’t necessarily stick around in my head very long.

The Late Show

David has given up drugs and alcohol, but that means that he has a hard time falling asleep and has to get creative to do so.
I’m the kind of person who has to fight to not fall asleep everywhere she can sit down (there’s no fight when I’m actually in a horizontal position), so the basic problem is a little alien to me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy reading what goes on in another person’s head when they try to overcome that problem.

I’ll Eat What He’s Wearing

Lou comes to visit David and brings with him a peculiar habit of handling food.
This story was the hilarious end point to the collection, a friendly ribbing of (fictional) Lou’s more outrageous trait that had me laughing out loud.

Summarizing: a strong collection that focuses on what Sedaris is best at.

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