• The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
• ebook: 386 pages
• Publisher: Dorchester, 2011 (first published in 1993)
• ISBN: 1428516212
• Genre: Horror/True Crime/Torture Porn
• Recommended For: Fans of movies like Hostel, Saw, and other icky movies.
Quick Review: Earns a 32 %, or 1.6 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. The Girl Next Door Rubric
I didn’t like it AT ALL, but if you don’t mind the torture of a kid by kids and parents, have at it!
How I Got Here: I’m on a quest for a legitimate book scare. I’ve been looking for a truly scary book for some time and this one is regularly recommended. So, I bought the ebook on Amazon (wish I hadn’t).
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
A teenage girl is held captive and brutally tortured by neighborhood children. Based on a true story, this shocking novel reveals the depravity of which we are all capable.
My Analysis and Critique:
Ugh. Why didn’t I read the synopsis and think about my reading/viewing tastes BEFORE I read this one? It’s my fault really.
I like horror of the supernatural variety, or the dystopian variety, not the “let’s watch the 12-year-old narrator get a hard-on as he watches the 14-year-old girl get stripped naked and tortured in his best friend’s basement by his best friends and best friends’ mom.”
This was awful.
It’s time for some concessions though. It wasn’t written awfully. Ketchum seems to be a good writer. And when he describes childhood, it’s pretty dead-on. At times, I felt like I was reading my all-time favorite childhood story It. But…
I don’t watch movies like Hostel or Saw. In my opinion, they’re just a step away from watching Faces of Death (remember those flicks? yuck.). So, I really didn’t dig watching a young girl getting tortured by her foster family, with all of the neighborhood kids, her disabled little sister, and OUR NARRATOR watching eagerly.
And, I really don’t like stories with unlikeable narrators. I didn’t even like everyone’s favorite The Graduate because I thought Dustin Hoffman’s character was lame. But, then again, at least Hoffman’s character wasn’t getting off to the torture of a young girl.
Plus, the narrator’s actions didn’t always make sense to me. He first introduced the two boys next door disparagingly as an “asshole” and a “retard”, but then he goes on to call them his closest friends. And he continues to refer to them as such, but stands by them as they touch, mutilate, and rape a girl whom he made friends with at the beginning of the book. This doesn’t make sense to me as a critical reader. Never mind the fact that it’s atrocious.
Ketchum knew that what he was writing was awful, and tried to make excuses in his “Author’s Note” . Basically, he says “it could’ve been much worse. I left out a lot of the bad stuff.” Don’t make excuses. It is what it is, and you recreated it in your fiction pretty well. It doesn’t mean that I have to like it though.
If you don’t mind this kind of stuff, go for it. It is written pretty well, despite the problems I had with the narrator’s characterization. I don’t want to read anything like it again. I don’t want my friends and family to read it either. Maybe it’s me, but this book seems good for nothing but a short (or long, if you’re especially sensitive) depression. I don’t want to know. I don’t need to see it. I know that I’m surrounded by sickos in this world, and I’ll pass on the details until I have to deal with it in real life. Ideally, never. Obviously.
As I did last year, I’m signing up for a few seasonal reading events…which I highly recommend you join in!
First, let me announce that I am, once again, taking part in Stainless Steel Droppings’ Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) event.
For those of you who don’t know (and I’m guessing you all do, so this disclaimer is redundant), I’m a mood reader. And a seasonal reader. I seem to enjoy classics in the Winter, so if you were reading my blog in the months of January to April, you’d think I only read classics. But, if you read me in the Fall, you’ll find Adventures in Borkdom to be a straight-up horror blog. That’s because of the R.I.P. event.
The R.I.P. event is all about reading and viewing horror in the months of September and October. Last year, I took part and loved it. Just like last year, I’m going to commit to the highest of participation levels: Peril the First (read four or more books of the horror genre), Peril of the Short Story (read short stories of the horror genre), and Peril on the Screen (watch horror movies and television). I do all of these things in October anyways, so my participation shouldn’t be difficult at all. Here are my reading and viewing plans:
• World War Z by Max Brooks (Zombie Apocalypse Lit.)
• Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind (Serial Killer Lit.)
• The Passage by Justin Cronin (Vampire Apocalypse Lit.)
• Hell House by Richard Matheson (Haunted House Lit.)
• Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite (Vampire Lit.)
• 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (Paranormal Lit./Short Stories)
• The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum (True Crime Horror Lit.)
• Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates (Serial Killer Lit.)
• The Living Dead (Zombie Apocalypse Lit./Short Stories)
For Peril on the Screen, here is a list of movies and television I’ll probably view in October:
• American Horror Story on FX
• Supernatural on CW
• The Walking Dead on AMC
• Cult classic horror movies on TCM
• Another viewing of The Blair Witch Project (I know it’s not scary for some, but it gets me every time!)
• Maybe another viewing of Kubric’s The Shining or my all-time favorite The Omen
• Maybe a new horror movie in the theater, if any upcoming ones are supposed to be good (cross my fingers!)
Hopefully, I’ll be able to read and watch all of that horror! To help me meet my goals, I need to announce another sign-up that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone! It’s an easy guess. Just think of the one event I was all hyped up about twice last year, and pushed my friends to take part.
You should have guessed the Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon! Of course I’ve signed up again! It’s simply what I do.
So, I’m thinking that I’ll be reading a huge chunk of these books on Saturday, October 13. It doesn’t matter if I already had plans for that Saturday (I don’t think I did, but who knows!). Consider them cancelled. Because readathons are what I do! Don’t worry SJ and other friends, I’m not going to peer pressure you into this one. If you tried it, liked it, and would like to do it again, I know you’ll sign up. If not, at least you tried it. But, for those of you who haven’t participated in Dewey’s Readathon, I HIGHLY recommend it! So, it’s October 13. Mark it on your calendar!
I’m excited for all the horror (the horror! the horror!) coming up! Won’t you join me in the chills?
Today, in honor of my reading of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I have posted my review of the first book in the series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read the book in April, so I can’t believe that I never got around to posting a review. I absolutely loved it!
So, check out my review as I read the next book in the series!
(By the way, my full-time reading is going excellently! I finished Dragonfly in Amber yesterday and got a quarter of the way through the amazing Song of Susannah!)
• The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
• Paperback: 216 pages
• Publisher: Pocket, 1991 (first published in 1979)
• ISBN: 0671746065
• Genre: Science Fiction/Humor/Classics
• Recommended For: Anyone who has even the slightest sense of silly humor.
Quick Review: Earns a 98 %, or 4.8 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Rubric
This review might work for you, it might not. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and, assumedly, the rest of the books in the series) is a book you either get or you don’t. I got it, absolutely, 5-star-loved it, and it seems that the majority of other Goodreads readers got it and loved it as well. But, be warned, this is an insane, very silly book in the way of Monty Python. I highly recommend it.
How I Got Here: One of the first computer games that my dad ever bought me was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a text-based game with zero graphics. The content of the game came straight from the novel, and I absolutely loved it (although it was a really hard game for someone who had never read the book). I loved the zaniness, the humor, and the characters. I bought the book for my husband some years ago, he loved it, and for some reason, I still hadn’t read it until this year. 22 years later after playing the game! By the way, apparently the video game is now available online! Check it out here!
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!
My Analysis and Critique:
This review might be biased. Biased in the way that I LOVE silly humor, especially silly English humor, and this book is chock-full of it. I also love science fiction, so this book was a match made in heaven for me. With that said, if you don’t dig silly English humor, you might not like this book. Although, I still find that hard to believe.
I love the plot of the story, full of all of its twists and turns and lunacy. I love the characters, both major, but especially minor. The humorous tone is awesome and I rarely read without a smile or an out and out “HA!” exclamation. The science fiction in the novel is equally good, and there were moments when I read about devices thinking that’s just like an I-pod! or The Hitchhiker’s Guide is an E-Reader!. This is one of my favorite aspects of science fiction, the amazing ability of science fiction writers to imagine up the actual future. It happens in Bradbury and Orwell, and it turns out that Adams had the same uncanny ability.
Really, all there is to say, is that I loved this book. Instead of going on in my praise, I’ll just provide the opening lines of the book, which truly reflect the spirit and tone of the novel. If you are intrigued and amused by this excerpt, chances are you’ll love what the rest of the novel offers.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
This planet has–or rather had–a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had gone wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.
This is not her story.
There’s been a dark cloud hanging over my house for the last week. I haven’t really felt up to sharing about it, nor do I entirely feel comfortable sharing now. Yet, I want to say something here, especially since it might come up in the future. Don’t worry, this post won’t be all doom and gloom.
Last Friday, Jesse and I found out that one of our good friends was brutally murdered by his ex-wife’s boyfriend. His five-year-old son, of whom he had full custody, is said to be safe, presumably with the ex-wife, but I’m hoping he’s with his grandmother. We learned, and are still learning, the details of what happened to our friend via out-of-state newspapers. Seeing horrific details in print, that describe atrocious actions done to one of your good friends, is surreal to say the least.
Needless to say, Jesse and I are trying to figure out how to cope with our emotions. These aren’t the typical feelings of sadness and loss that derive from losing a friend to a motorcycle accident (which is what Jesse first assumed had happened when he heard about the death). No, hopefully, eventually, those will be the sole emotions remaining. What Jesse (and I, to a lesser extent) is dealing with is extreme, “I want to rip him apart”, anger. Because a great injustice has been dealt to our friend, a very caring and kind person who was the best dad anyone could ask for. And how awful is it going to be for his little boy, having to grow up under these gruesome and unfair events? So, we’re angry, confused, and starting to come out of the shock.
Eventually, there will be a fund set up for his son, and when that goes into effect, you will probably see something about it here. Because, I figure, the only thing to do in this situation, the only way to get past the hate and anger, is to combat it with love. I think I read that over at Lucy’s Football last week, which was definitely well-timed in my situation. So, I’m going to do whatever I can to help that little boy who was so loved and cared for by his father. I’ll probably ask you all to help in whatever way you can as well. Until then, Jesse and I are coping, trying to find some sense of normalcy.
Here’s a song for Brando and his son by Flogging Molly, a favorite of Brando’s:
—-**—-Here is where I transition awkwardly to how I am coping.—-**—-
It’s been very hot in San Diego this week, so I haven’t felt up to doing much of anything. We don’t have AC in our house, nor do most people in SD, because, for the majority of the year, we don’t need it. But, I definitely wouldn’t have minded it this week. So, I’ve been eating popsicles and raw veggies, drinking lots of iced tea, and reading books. I finished The Return of the King this week (I was sad to say goodbye to my friends when it was all over), and have worked my way through about half of Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series. Hopefully, I’ll have that finished by next week. Then, I’ll be returning to The Dark Tower series, to finish what I started in January. The Wolves of the Calla is what I’ve got next (one of my favorites in the series).
So here’s something out in left field that I started last night: writing a really crappy YA paranormal romance. Yesterday, my friend Pat invited me to “Book Club”, a group he and another friend started on Facebook. The purpose of Book Club? Reading, analyzing, and writing crappy tween books. Right now, Pat is working on a teen romance between a human girl and a wraith boy. Apparently, it’s tough being a wraith in high school-it’s hard to stay focused. You know, fellow LotR-reading friends, what I imagine…the Nazgul king meets Eowyn on the fields of Pellenor.
He sheathes his sword, pulls Eowyn up on his mount, and flies off to his hidden nest up near Mount Doom. After weeks of being holed up with the king, Eowyn starts to notice a softer side to him, and one day realizes that she has fallen madly in love. The love of the wraith and the princess…
coming to a Kindle near you.
I can’t wait to see what happens in Pat’s story…it’s definitely going to be absurd. I, on the other hand, started my story last night by pulling out my handy-dandy Field Guide to Demons book, using a random number generator to choose a page number, and selecting a paranormal love interest based upon the page I came up with. So, I’m writing a tragic love story centering around a human boy and a nixie! There will be a love triangle and my story will be heavily ripping off Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. That’s how it’s done, right? Surprisingly, based upon my struggle with the first 400 words, writing crap is hard!
Of course, the best way to cope in times of sadness is through retail therapy.
But, I have been utilizing my own type of retail therapy. You know that I’m not talking about shoe shopping, right? You guys know me better than that. Nope, I’ve been indulging in book-buying of course! Here are some of the books I’ve picked up this week via thrift stores, used bookstores, and Amazon.
For my Kindle:
Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various awesome authors
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Hopefully, I’ll be able to read this in October. We’ll see.
From a local thrift store:
Grand Total: less than $4!
Then the most exciting purchase from the used bookstore:
A first edition of The Drawing of the Three! With all of the pictures! Only $20!
I’m now one book away from having all of the Dark Tower pictures, (remember when I bitched about that?). I just need The Gunslinger for a complete set!
So, I think next week I will be back to “back to normal”. That means at least three posts from me, lots of reading, and my normal amount of tweeting (which is usually <5 per day). This weekend, I’ll engage in my planned inspired adventure of watching local LARPing for next week’s Return of the King-Inspired Adventures post, which will either appear on Monday or Thursday.
And, this is how I’m dealing. Am I doing it right? Is there a right way to mourn? I figure that the best way to deal is to get back to doing what I normally do. And do as much good as I can for that little boy who is left behind.
As always, thank you friends for all of your support and caring. It never ceases to amaze me how kind people can be.
• Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
• Hardcover: 279 pages
• Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 1984
• ISBN: 0671530518
• Genre: Historical Fiction
• Recommended For: Readers interested in World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific. Anyone interested in viewing war through the eyes of a child.
Quick Review: Earns an 88 %, or 4.4 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Empire of the Sun Rubric
An important novel, Empire of the Sun provides insight to what it’s like to experience war through the eyes of a child, and gives readers an excuse to educate themselves on the war in the Pacific during WWII.
How I Got Here: Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun has always been a favorite film, and I have been meaning to read the book for years. One of the tasks in The Seasonal Reading Challenge required reading one of the “Best War Novels”, so I jumped at the opportunity to cross this one off my TBR list.
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, tells of a young boy’s struggle to survive World War II in China.
Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.
Shanghai, 1941 — a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war…and the dawn of a blighted world.
Ballard’s enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.
My Analysis and Critique:
Empire of the Sun is an important book, both as a historical work and as an example of a child’s experience in war. Immediately when I started to read it, I thought that it is a work that should be taught in school, right alongside The Diary of Anne Frank, as it provides insight into the World War II Pacific experience. Yet, it would be a pretty hard read for youth readers, as, at times, it was a pretty hard read for me. Certain parts of the plot were hard to follow, and this is why Empire of the Sun doesn’t earn 5 stars with me. This is also why I could say what I never say: the movie was better than the book in a few ways.
-Imagery and setting: WWII Shanghai came to life via Ballard’s writing. The descriptions of the city, the people, and the experiences were very vivid, and most often were shocking. I saw the city before Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese occupied Shanghai, but allowed the residents to live and work pretty much as they always had before. Yet, this city is already a wasteland of poverty and death:
Refugees from the towns and villages around Shanghai were pouring into the city. Wooden carts and rickshaws crowded Amherst Avenue, each loaded with a peasant family’s entire possessions. Adults and children bent under the bales strapped to their backs, forcing the wheels with their hands. Rickshaw coolies hauled at their shafts, chanting and spitting, veins as thick as fingers clenched into the meat of their swollen calves. Petty clerks pushed bicycles loaded with mattresses, charcoal stoves and sacks of rice. A legless beggar, his thorax strapped into a huge leather shoe, swung himself along the road through the maze of wheels, a wooden dumbbell in each hand. He spat and swiped at the Packard when Yang tried to force him out of the car’s way, and then vanished among the wheels and pedicabs and rickshaws, confident in his kingdom of saliva and dust. (12)
This is the world Jim, the protagonist, grows up in, and once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the city spirals into mass confusion, and Jim is caught up in the middle of it, surrounded by violence and death. As Jim moves from war-torn Shanghai to an internment camp, Ballard expertly illustrates what it was truly like, through the eyes of a child.
-Characterization: Jim is a sad, strange boy dealing with his world turned upside down and inside out. Early in the novel, he is reading Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and it’s immediately clear that his experiences will be very Alice-like. Ballard’s Jim is a very needy boy–he is starving for attention from his parents, and once he is separated from them, he is starving for attention from any and all adults around him. Jim is also a survivor–he does whatever it takes to get through his experiences, whether it means cozying up to the Japanese enemy, offering up whatever he has or could get to the morally-corrupt adults, or manipulating whatever system is in place so that he can get what he needs the most.
All of Ballard’s minor characters come to life via his descriptions and dialogue. Jim encounters a variety of people during his war experience: Chinese street thugs, Japanese soldiers and officers, British elite trying to cope with their new limited circumstances, and American con artists, to name a few. Everyone he sees and encounters comes are realistic and true.
-The Book as History Lesson: I learned so much from this book, and what it didn’t tell me, I sought out via my husband (a history buff) or the internet. This is my favorite kind of book, the kind that drives me to seek knowledge. I feel now that I understand quite a bit more about the war in the Pacific, and what it was like to experience the war in Shanghai. Most likely, I will seek further information on this area and period of history because of my reading of this book. This is one of the greatest achievements of any book: the ability to spur on the reader to seek more.
What Didn’t Work:
-Plot Development/Writing Style: So maybe I’m not a good reader, or I just didn’t get a few of the scenes, but at times the plot just doesn’t make sense. For example, young Jim thinks he’s responsible for starting the war after watching a Japanese cruiser fire upon a British ship in the Bund river. I know, from having watched the movie, that the Japanese ship is making use of a signal lamp and that Jim, having some childish fun, uses his own lamp to signal back to the ship. Right after this, the ship fires upon the British, causing Jamie to think he might’ve mistakenly signaled something that caused the Japanese aggression. Yet, in the book, all I see is Jamie banging on the window while he watches the Japanese signaling, the Japanese firing on the Brits, and then, while battle ensues, Jim sits on the bed thinking he started the whole thing:
Jim watched them somberly. He realized that he himself had probably started the war, with his confused semaphores from the window that the Japanese officers in the motor launch had misinterpreted. (28)
So, apparently the Jim’s lamp signaling happened, I just never saw it.
This kind of reader confusion happens a couple of times in the book, and I blame Ballard’s awesome use of imagery. His descriptions are so good that somehow they actually hide the plot. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, what was happening and what was simply in Jim’s head. My husband thinks this confusion might be intentional on Ballard’s part, to truly illustrate the confusion of a child in war. This could most likely be the case, but it’s somewhat hard on the reader.
This is one of the most rarest of occasions, as I’m going to say that in a lot of ways I preferred the movie over the book. Of course, the movie doesn’t quite bring to life the characters, particularly Jamie, as well as the book, and I didn’t get all of the cultural and historical background that I got in the book. Yet, as a story, for me, it worked better. I wasn’t confused by plot that was made ambiguous by creative narrative styles and imagery, and I preferred the ending. The movie did cut out a good chunk of Jim’s post-war experience, which I was fascinated by, but still, as a story, I preferred it. I really can’t believe I’m saying that–I never say that. But, I definitely recommend the book alongside the movie for a very educational and moving experience.
• When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
• Audio: 9 cds
• Publisher: Hatchette Audio, 2008
• ISBN: 1600241824
• Genre: Humor; Memoir; Essay
• Recommended For: Anyone who’s looking for a good laugh and finds humor in both the mundane and quirky of everyday life.
Quick Review: I highly recommend Sedaris’ writing to anyone–either this collection, or any of his other books. They are all relatable and hilarious, and force the reader to appreciate the absurdity of life’s minutia.
How I Got Here: I’ve been reading about one Sedaris collection per year for the last three years; thus, this is the third Sedaris book I’ve read. I’ve enjoyed each and every book I’ve read by Sedaris, and so, when I was looking for an audiobook to listen to in the car, and this was available at the library, it was a no-brainer.
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
Once again, David Sedaris brings together a collection of essays so uproariously funny and profoundly moving that his legions of fans will fall for him once more. He tests the limits of love when Hugh lances a boil from his backside, and pushes the boundaries of laziness when, finding the water shut off in his house in Normandy, he looks to the water in a vase of fresh cut flowers to fill the coffee machine. From armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds to the awkwardness of having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a sleeping fellow passenger on a plane, David Sedaris uses life’s most bizarre moments to reach new heights in understanding love and fear, family and strangers. Culminating in a brilliantly funny (and never before published) account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris’s sixth essay collection will be avidly anticipated.
My Analysis and Critique:
I love Sedaris’ work and I loved this example of his work. While others might complain that this one is more tame, less focused, or just “not as good as his other stuff,” I found everything that I expect and am looking for in a collection of Sedaris essays (stories). There were moments of hilarity, the grotesque, and morose reflection–staples of Sedaris’ writing. His style is meandering (in a good way), often beginning with a quirky scene at the beginning of an essay, and then moving into the meat of his story, which finally culminates into some sort of reflection on an aspect of his present or past life. I enjoy equally my moments of connection with his stories, as well as the moments of “Whaaat?!” that occur every so often.
This was the first time that I have listened to Sedaris reading his own words, and I have to say, it is the best way to go. While I was somewhat annoyed by the book’s few live recordings of Sedaris reading to an audience (All of the pauses he took while the audience bursts out in laughter made me frustrated. “You guys are interrupting my story!”), I appreciated hearing his voice and getting to listen to his comic timing.
Here are my favorite stories from the collection:
“It’s Catching”: This story revolves around germaphobes, and gives some more insight into my favorite of Sedaris’s sisters, Lisa (she’s quite a character). It also introduces us to Maw Hamrick, the mother of Hugh (Sedaris’ longtime partner), and her unfortunate past experience with a worm living in her leg. Sedaris reflects:
If I was a child and saw something creeping out of a hole in my mother’s leg, I would march to the nearest orphanage and put myself up for adoption. I would burn all pictures of her, destroy anything she had ever given me, and start all over because that is simply disgusting. A dad can be crawling with parasites and somehow it’s OK, but on a mom, or any woman, really, it’s unforgivable. (5)
“The Understudy”: The most popular kind of Sedaris story–a childhood story that tells of the time when Sedaris and his sisters were left with a hillbilly babysitter named Mrs. Peacock, while their parents were vacationing for a week. During the kids’ week from hell, they hold “daily crisis meetings” in the woods behind their house, and record Mrs. Peacock’s offenses in a notebook:
“Can’t speak English,” I wrote in the complaint book. “Can’t go two minutes without using the word ‘damn.’ Can’t cook worth a
The last part was not quite true, but it wouldn’t have hurt her to expand her repertoire. Sloppy joe, sloppy joe, sloppy joe, held over our heads as if it were steak. Nobody ate unless they earned it, which meant fetching her drinks, brushing her hair, driving the monkey paw into her shoulders until she moaned. Mealtime came and went—her too full of Coke and potato chips until one of us dared to mention it. “If y’all was hungry, why didn’t you say nothing? I’m not a mind reader, you know. Not a psychic or some damn thing.” (26)
“What I Learned”: Sedaris discusses his experiences at Princeton as an undergraduate, and the expectations that go along with attending an Ivy League school. Of course, it’s told by Sedaris, so it’s not at all what you’d expect from that synopsis. To stifle his father’s enthusiasm about his son attending Princeton, Sedaris announces to his parents that he will be majoring in patricide. In this way, the story is a bit absurd, as Sedaris describes his parents’ enthusiasm at this major: “Killed by a Princeton graduate! […] And my own son, no less.” The fun irony is that Sedaris truly lives up to this announcement: he kills his father (and entire family) via the publication of his revealing, humorous essays.
“That’s Amore”: A wonderful character sketch of Helen, Sedaris’ neighbor in New York, who was truly an awful woman. Yet, somehow, Sedaris writes of Helen with love. She’s petty, gossipy, racist, hateful, and oh-so-real. Yet, who Helen was cannot really be contained in a short synopsis: you’ve gotta read this one!
“Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle”: A short vignette describing the awkwardness of getting stuck next to an asshole on a long flight. A woman seated next to Sedaris asks him if he would swap seats with her husband so that the spouses can sit together, Sedaris declines, and then it becomes passive-aggressively ugly.
“Old Faithful”: A story about the growth and eventual lancing of a cyst on Sedaris’ backside sounds pretty disgusting, right? However, this is a wonderful story that ends up illustrating the perks of being in a comfortable, somewhat predictable, long relationship with someone you love.
“The Smoking Section”: My favorite of the essays here, and it’s a long one at 83 pages. This one chronicles Sedaris’ smoking addiction and his journey in quitting the habit. It illustrates his history with smoking, his decision to quit, and the aftereffects of quitting. Sedaris ends up moving to Japan with Hugh, after reading that it helps to change one’s entire environment to give up an addiction, and then shares his adventures in the foreign country while dealing with all the stages of quitting. I found this essay both insightful and inspiring, and I appreciated the peek into the life of an American in Japan. And, since I forgot to mention it, it’s also VERY FUNNY.
I highly recommend Sedaris’ writing to anyone–either this collection, or any of his other books. They are all relatable and hilarious, and force the reader to appreciate the absurdity of life’s minutia.