- The Best of me, by David Sedaris. Hachette, $32.99.
David Sedaris copped a bit of flak recently for suggesting that people should be able to fire service industry workers who don't cut the mustard.
"It's like a citizen's arrest, but instead of detaining someone, you get to fire them!" the humourist enthused on the CBS Sunday Morning show.
According to Sedaris, the "citizen's dismissal" would, in fact, create jobs for enterprising folk, the likes of whom, on discovering they had neither a bag nor bubble wrap with which to pack your lush new Limoges, would swing into action saying, "I've got an idea! Let's wrap your pottery in my socks and underwear!"
Personally, I'm on board. The Twittersphere, not so much. @bananafitz, unaware she'd passed through the door marked 'JOKES', tweeted "Read the room babe". @bob_loblaw_0, whose handle helpfully displays his follower count, suggested "We are all dumber for having heard this," while @popeguilty would like you to know that "David Sedaris isn't dead but he's dead to me." Sheesh. If these wowsers don't watch out they'll wind up in his next book.
In the introduction to The Best of Me, a collection of the author's essays and humour writing, Sedaris attributes the rise of whining to the invention of the internet, before listing a few of the funnier emails he's received over the years.
"It used to be that you'd write a letter of complaint, then read it over wondering, Is this really worth a twenty-five cent stamp?" he writes. "With the advent of e-mail, complaining became free." Twitter lowered the bar even further.
Free, user-friendly and geared towards pith, Twitter is the perfect platform for cheap, lazy whiners. It's also a safe haven for people who can't make a coherent argument.
I'm sorry, but you can't claim to be a "regular reader" of Sedaris and to have been deeply offended by the citizen's dismissal.
As for accusations of entitlement, nice try. Sedaris is a humanist at heart and his work is characterised by an undeniable warmth and sense of solicitude. He's also far more likely to strike up a conversation with a shop assistant than ask to speak to his or her manager. These stories bear this out.
Anyone who has read Sedaris probably feels like they know his family already. If you haven't, you'll meet them all here - just don't call them dysfunctional. "My father hoarding food inside my sister's vagina would be dysfunctional," writes Sedaris. "His hoarding it beneath the bathroom sink, as he is wont to do, is, at best, quirky and at worst unsanitary."
Like most families, the Sedaris's have had their ups and downs. Unlike most families, those experiences have become bestseller material. In the stories collected here, Sedaris writes about Tiffany's slide into homelessness and her eventual suicide, the death of his mum, and coming to terms with the fact that he and his dad will probably never see eye-to-eye.
Interestingly, Paul and his dad get on great notwithstanding the language barrier that separates them. When Lou complains about his aching feet at a dinner party, Paul pipes up: "Bitch, you need to have them ugly-ass bunions shaved down is what you need to do." Lou's response? "Well, I guess you have a point." A stranger might read a lack of respect into the exchange, but they'd be missing the "subtle beauty" of their relationship.
When a hurricane damaged Lou's house, it was Paul who rushed over with a gas grill, three coolers of beer and a bucket full of candy. Nothing disrespectful or dysfunctional about that.
Family aside, The Best of Me features some classic New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs columns, including one about a family shopping trip to Tokyo. Over their week-long stay, the Sedaris gang bought up big at Comme des Garons, Dover Street Market and Yohji Yamamoto, but only a cold-hearted Tweeter could begrudge Sedaris his costly culottes. This is consumerism served with lashings of fun and a generous helping of self-awareness.
"Obviously we have some hole we're trying to fill, but doesn't everyone? And isn't filling it with berets the size of toilet-seat covers, if not more practical, then at least healthier than filling it with frosting or heroin or unsafe sex with strangers?"
In the end, The Best of Me leaves you with the impression that Sedaris is grateful, not entitled. Spotting a passer-by on the beach in front of his holiday home one evening, Sedaris reflects on his good fortune.
"Someone was walking past the house, maybe to their own place, or perhaps to the one they were renting for the long holiday weekend. If it was smaller than the Sea Section, or less well positioned, they maybe looked up into our gaily lit windows and resented us, wondering, as we often did ourselves these days, what we had done to deserve all this".