A rich trove for hardcore Sedaris fans, though no more personally revealing than his well-shaped essays.

A CARNIVAL OF SNACKERY

DIARIES (2003-2020)

The second volume of diaries by Sedaris (after Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002), who navigates the early 21st century wealthier but still bemused.

The flashpoints of the modern era—the Iraq War, Ferguson, Trump, Covid-19—pop up throughout these entries, but mainly so the author can sail past them with his usual irreverence. For example: “When the pandemic hit, my first thought wasn’t Oh, those poor dying people but What about my airline status?” His bottomless capacity to make everything about him doesn’t read as selfishness or ignorance, though; as with all good comics, the particulars of his life are stand-ins for everybody’s foibles and frustrations. Traveling the world for readings, Sedaris takes note of every culture’s peculiarities, from spitting on the street in Tokyo to offensive insults to language quirks—e.g., Tagalog is like “English on quaaludes.” Sedaris treats his own life as a kind of foreign country, too. After moving from his longtime home in France to England, he began his hobby of picking up litter (documented in Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls), and the reactions of his neighbors, not to mention the trash itself, provide comic fodder. Family matters were trickier during this period: His troubled sister, Tiffany, killed herself, and his elderly but resilient father still treated him like a failure. Because Sedaris traveled all over the world during this stretch, the tone and form of the diaries shift; he’s sometimes glib, sometimes contemplative, sometimes content just to catalog funny stuff he overhears. So for better or worse, he’s a humorist who’ll go anywhere. This book contains one of the best jokes about the Crucifixion you’re likely to hear, along with a few subpar quips: “To honor the death of Marcel Marceau I observed a minute of silence."

A rich trove for hardcore Sedaris fans, though no more personally revealing than his well-shaped essays.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-55879-2

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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