Sedaris’s sense of life’s absurdity is on full, fine display, as is his emotional body armor. Fortunately, he has plenty of...

DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM

Known for his self-deprecating wit and the harmlessly eccentric antics of his family, Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 2000, etc.) can also pinch until it hurts in this collection of autobiographical vignettes.

Once again we are treated to the author’s gift for deadpan humor, especially when poking fun at his family and neighbors. He draws some of the material from his youth, like the portrait of the folks across the street who didn’t own a TV (“What must it be like to be so ignorant and alone?” he wonders) and went trick-or-treating on November first. Or the story of the time his mother, after a fifth snow day in a row, chucked all the Sedaris kids out the door and locked it. To get back in, the older kids devised a plan wherein the youngest, affection-hungry Tiffany, would be hit by a car: “Her eagerness to please is absolute and naked. When we ask her to lie in the middle of the street, her only question was ‘Where?’ ” Some of the tales cover more recent incidents, such as his sister’s retrieval of a turkey from a garbage can; when Sedaris beards her about it, she responds, “Listen to you. If it didn’t come from Balducci’s, if it wasn’t raised on polenta and wild baby acorns, it has to be dangerous.” But family members’ square-peggedness is more than a little pathetic, and the fact that they are fodder for his stories doesn’t sit easy with Sedaris. He’ll quip, “Your life, your privacy, your occasional sorrow—it’s not like you're going to do anything with it,” as guilt pokes its nose around the corner of the page. Then he’ll hitch himself up and lacerate them once again, but not without affection even when the sting is strongest. Besides, his favorite target is himself: his obsessive-compulsiveness and his own membership in this company of oddfellows.

Sedaris’s sense of life’s absurdity is on full, fine display, as is his emotional body armor. Fortunately, he has plenty of both.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-14346-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

more