There is something so sinisterly satisfying about reading other
people’s dirty laundry. However, it’s even better when those sundry
tales are imbued with an undertone of thought, a philosophical
reflection that makes all the ogling seem scholarly and
And if this is your idea of a good time, look no further than
the work of David Sedaris. In his newest book, Dress Your Family In
Corduroy and Denim, the essayist once again proves his ability to
pull humor and insight from nearly any situation.
If you’ve read Sedaris’s other work, you’ve become familiar with
his whole quirky family, as concerned and amused by them as if they
were your own, and perhaps knowing a little more dirty secrets
about them than about your own.
In this book, the author does not disappoint those who want to
see these characters and all their idiosyncrasies resurface. As the
title would indicate, most all of the essays center around
recollections of the Sedaris family, as children, as young adults,
and even in recent years.
It is such essays about more recent events that give the book a
much-needed momentum. These more current reflections prove that
Sedaris’s insight is timeless, that he is capable of depth beyond
having built his career on stories from the past. The essays in
this book deal with present concerns, such as his celebrity, and
the inevitable question of how his family feels about being exposed
so candidly, or how the author himself feels about it.
One of the most poignant examples of this is the essay entitled,
“Repeat After Me.” Under the guise of an anecdote about his sister
and her talking parrot, Sedaris explores the role of the author,
namely himself, as the exploiter.
He suddenly finds himself so caught up with the idea of using
his family’s stories as stories in his book he completely misses
them as expressions of real emotion from people he cares about.
Like the parrot, he simply repeats what he hears for the benefit of
others, without understanding the words themselves.
It’s the kind of metaphor any fiction writer would covet, and
one Sedaris uses so beautifully in nonfiction, that the sweet
feeling at the end feels genuine.
And while Sedaris has always been adept at turning his acerbic
eye inward, in this book the effect is especially powerful. We get
to see his struggles with an immediacy that doesn’t allow for
solutions. This exploration of problems as they are, of why and how
they exist without the clarity of resolution, gives the book a
tenderness and vulnerability that is truly the mark of a brilliant
NOTE: Cal Performances presents David Sedaris who will be
reading several essays from this book, as well as several never
before heard works-in-progress. Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. in
Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley.