Me Talk Pretty One Day is a 2000 collection of humorous, anecdotal essays by David Sedaris, and is the author’s fourth book. Though these essays offer a bit of an eclectic mix of topics, altogether they serve as an unconventional telling of Sedaris’s life story up to that point, covering some of his experiences in school, the eccentricities of his family members, numerous relocations, and career changes. Underpinning many of these essays is a motif of communication and/or self-expression.
It’s been a number of years since I read my last Sedaris book, and I must say that his writing has been sorely missed. I really enjoy his wry, deprecating perspective on himself and the world, which this book offered in spades. He manages to strike a good balance of making fun without coming across as too mean-spirited or bitter. In the opening essay he covers his childhood experiences with a speech therapist, forced upon him by his school to correct his lisp, and he doesn’t shy away from how overbearing and antagonistic her approach with him was. By the end however, we get a more human look at her, with the flaws in her approach being something she could possibly learn from.
In a later essay we learn of his time as a creative writing teacher, where he is very forthright about his own lack of qualifications, to hilariously embarrassing effect. He may pick at the foibles of others, but his biggest target is usually himself. There’s something oddly comforting about the personal triumphs and travails of his life story that he explores in this book, as it illustrates how much a life can change. He may have been in over his head during his stint as a writing teacher, but the book itself is a testament to how far he’d come since then. We see him as a struggling, drug addicted artist, and suffering through humiliating or labor-intense jobs too, barely scraping by. He examines and lampoons these periods, stripping away some pretensions he held at the time, but you can see and feel for who he was and what was important to him at the time too.
The way he writes about situations and people feels like caricature at times, with details exaggerated to almost cartoonish effect in the case of more boisterous personalities, and I expect that many things have been embellished to tell a better story. Nevertheless, there’s a rawness to his writing, even when he’s being funny, that I can usually connect with on a deeper level. Whether coming to terms with having to euthanize a pet, desperately trying to discover a personal talent, or adapting to life in a new country, there’s something more relatable on a deeper level than humour, just beneath the surface.
The book is amusingly conspicuous as a late 90s book as well, released right at the dawn of the new millennium. There’s an essay that complains about computers replacing typewriters in a way that is just so quaint, though I can understand why the enforced change might have been frustrating at the time. Though he sounds like a bit of a Luddite through most of the essay, by the end he surprisingly gets right to the heart of what would become so appealing about computers and the internet to the population at large.
When I first started reading Sedaris I had actually started with a selection of his later books, from 2008 to 2017, which had an unexpected impact on reading this older collection. His 2017 book Theft by Finding is a curated collection of the author’s diary entries from 1977 to 2002. As it turns out, a lot of those diary entries covered experiences of his that were adapted into essays in this book, making the whole reading experience feel uncannily familiar. In part, this made the book feel like the quintessential David Sedaris collection to me; not my personal favourite, but a perfect place to start with his books, especially with how it takes you through phases of his life.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a great place to start with Sedaris’s work if you’re just getting into it, giving you a broad look at his life up to that point, covering much of his humbler beginnings. An earlier book may be even better suited, but I don’t think starting here would do you wrong. My familiarity with a lot of the content, as mentioned, was a little double-edged though, as it felt less like I was reading something new a lot of the time. Not my favourite, but a solid foundation to start his books from.
My rating: 4 out of 5