Book Review – Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Summary from Goodreads

A guy walks into a bar car and…

From here the story could take many turns. When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.

Sedaris remembers his father’s dinnertime attire (shirtsleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant), and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy.


Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is a collection of narrative essays by David Sedaris, and is his most recent book. This is the third collection of his I’ve read in less than a year, which is noteworthy to me because I’ve found there was a substantial difference between my mindset going into the first essay collection I read, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and this one.

The first time around I really didn’t know what to expect, having never read anything quite like his work before other than Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, which is apparently a diversion from his normal writing. With this most recent book I had a much more solid perspective in mind of who Sedaris is — as presented in his writing specifically — and thus found myself less surprised by the frequently unflattering way he depicts himself, often in a way that makes you dislike him as a narrator, as well as the uncomfortable or even troubling subjects he tackles in a humorous way.

Though unflattering, his perspective is most often rather candid and sincere, shining a light on negative feelings I believe all of us have to some degree, especially within certain situations or dealing with certain people. Though I found it happened to a lesser extent in this book, he does continue his tendency steer the audience’s perception one way before revealing more nuance to the situation, allowing self-reflection. I found this most prominent in this book when he depicts his father. Though his father has come up before, I found this book especially drove home how he, frankly, could be a bit of a bastard. Despite this, there are sincere moments of caring and even a bit of tenderness that show there’s more than simply what we find distasteful.

The points that really hurt the overall experience for me were the “Forensics” sections, which are short monologues performed by high school students, which he explains in the opening are under the umbrella of the “etc.” in the subtitle of the book. He wrote a number of these, each from different fictional perspectives, often in a heavily satirical tone about political or social issues/attitudes. While humorous enough on their own, I found them too obvious and they often derailed tone for me, especially if they followed a particularly affecting essay.

“Loggerheads” hit me in an especially personal way, for example, but the feeling was short-lived after reading the monologue that followed, “If I Ruled the World,” about a heavy-handed, hypocritical woman invoking Jesus Christ as a platform for changing the world in a violent way. I think it would be fantastic to hear it performed just the right way, but reading it along with these more thoughtful essays just felt jarring.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls may not be his strongest work — it’s certainly the weakest of his I’ve read thus far — but it’s weakness is really just in relative terms. I really enjoy his writing and even in this case I find most of his essays rather brilliant in their combination of pointed humour, intelligence, and humanity. It’s especially worth picking up for the gems like “Loggerheads,” which despite my issues with the writing that fit around it, still left a lasting impression on me.


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