Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2005
Back Bay Books / Random House
US Trade Paperback First Edition
Publication Date: 05-31-2005
272 Pages; $14.95
Date Reviewed: 06-05-05
here are a million things I'd rather do than try to write a review of David Sedaris. It’s a gorgeous day outside, and even after having set up the file and header for this review, it popped into my mind that I'd like to mow the lawn. It's 8:30 AM. I used to mow lawns in the years before I could get a job, and I mowed so many lawns that I ended up with an aversion to mowing lawns. Except when the alternative is writing about David Sedaris.
It's incredibly difficult to write about a guy who is known to everyone, if not through his many bestselling books then by his popular radio spots for NPR. There's probably a review for every single copy of every single David Sedaris book out there. But 'Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim', first published in hardcover last year, is the first book by Sedaris I've actually read. Until now, I've just enjoyed hearing him on NPR, mostly during segments of Ira Glass's This American Life. When you've heard a writer speak so often before actually reading his words, it can create an eerie reading experience.
Duty compels me to write a paragraph for space aliens, that is, those who have no knowledge of Sedaris. No, I won’t take you to our leader. What I will do is tell you that should you wish to get to know humanity, there's a writer named David Sedaris who has modern American humans down in one. If you want to know the best that America has to offer, here it is in a 257-page collection of stories about one man's modern American family. I promise that the experience of hearing him speak these pieces for the radio and reading them yourself is so similar as to be almost indistinguishable. The only real difference is that while reading them, others won’t be able to hear his voice unless you feel compelled to read the works aloud. There's a very real chance that you will. Learn our language, space aliens, and enjoy.
For the rest of us earthlings, one of the fears that you might have is that reading these disparate little stories could result in an overload of Sedaris. Surprisingly, that's not the case. In fact, you'll have to work not to read the book in a single sitting or two. Such is the quality of the writing within that this (not reading the whole shebang in one gulp) is strongly recommended, especially if you've read his other books and have no other Sedaris to fall back on. This is the perfect book to read as a palate cleanser between other books, between daily newspapers, between one day and the next.
Sedaris writes minimalist portraits of small events in his life with an honesty that allows readers to laugh at him as well as with him. He's relentlessly frank, and admits to minor and major sins at a rate that is remarkably satisfying. Time after time, readers will feel just a little bit better about themselves as their flaws crop up in Sedaris and his family. But while Sedaris offers a glimpse at the tawdry underside, he's normal enough not to have an underside so tawdry that it will alienate readers. (Even if you are aliens.) He's done all the grotty stuff that just about everyone else has done, and he writes about it in such a fashion that after having laughed at him, readers are likely to give themselves permission to laugh at themselves. Sedaris gives us the gift of our own seediness.
There are a million things you might want to do besides mow the lawn, get up, go to work, or look at yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning. But that first glimpse will be a lot easier to take if you give in to the impulse to read one -- just one-- essay by David Sedaris. It's an easy impulse to obey, but put the book down afterwards and leave yourself some room to grow. Even if you are an alien -- or just feel like one.