Tuesday, June 23

Book Talk Twofer: In the Heart of the Sea, and Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim

I don't know what I've gotten myself into with this whole book talk thing, because apparently I'm a really fast reader. Since last Thursday, I've read two books: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. The only thing the books have in common is that they're about Americans. Also, bones make an appearance in both, as does drowning come to think of it.

In the Heart of the Sea is the true account of the whaleship Essex, which Moby-Dick was in large part based upon. Noah read it before me and repeatedly gave me gory details (hint: survival cannibalism) that totally turned me off, but he inSISted that I read it. I devoured it in two days—much like the sailors devoured their crewmates. Ew, gross. No seriously, it's really good.

For realsies though, it was quite the follow-up to Longitude. Some of the same names appeared in both, and reading Longitude let me in on just how treacherous navigation at sea was for hundreds of years, thus making the feats of the Essex crew all the more incredible. Reading this put me in touch with American history and heritage in a way that traditional history books can't: Philbrick told the naked truth, even when it was ugly. As it turns out, whaling was horrific. Who knew?

* * *
When it comes to Sedaris's books, I have a hard time choosing where to start. I chose Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim because the first story in it referenced his family's move from New York to North Carolina, a North-to-South migration I immediately identified with.

There's a lot to identify with when it comes to Sedaris. Also, he's brilliant. One thing I appreciate is how well-rounded his essay collections are; even though they may be variations on a theme (family and love, for instance), Sedaris doesn't linger too long on any one aspect of himself. He doesn't address the same issues essay after essay, repeadedly sticking on one or two idosyncracies like a broken record on an annoying scratch. And that, to me, is the mark of a great essayist.

Having dabbled in personal essay myself this past semester, I've experienced how difficult it is to temporarily step outside yourself and look at part of life through a fine-focus lens. Then you have to step back into yourself and describe what you see. It's tough to zoom in on distinct moments and determine which ones stand alone and which must be connected to a larger narrative. Sedaris perfects this ability.

Plus, he's funny. Despite my literary babble about craft, every author's purpose is to be read and enjoyed. Some funny books are good for a once-through laugh (say, Ellen DeGeneris's books), but the really funny ones are the ones that are also a little painful, and make you wonder if you should be laughing at all.

4 comments:

Tina said...

The only Sedaris book that I've read thus far was "Me Talk Pretty One Day". Like you say - laughing, and wondering if you should be. I'd love to read more by him. I'll keep an eye out for this in my travels.

And another author who is REALLY good at making you laugh in sad, awkward life situations is Elizabeth Berg. She also writes essays, but her novels are fab. "Talk Before Sleep" is incredibly sad, but made me laugh constantly and is uplifting in a "women-y fiction" kind of way.

Dan said...

It's weird but I've only ever read three books and you've mentioned two of them now. I think I might have even reviewed In the Heart of the Sea on my blog....

http://allthatcomeswithit.com/archives/504

yep, thought I did.

I've listened to Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim on audio book if that counts.

Earth To Mother Ship said...

I adore David Sedaris...and even more than David I ADORE his sister AMY. Strangers with Candy the TV series slays me and I love her book Hospitality Under the Influence. You can't go wrong with Sedaris. I just picked up his Holidays on Ice essays about being a Macy's Christmas Elf.

Anonymous said...

Those Sedarises are so funny! Loved "Me Talk Pretty One Day," though I think some of the language bugged me (and I'm not really prudish about that generally, when I think it's warranted). Or maybe it was another book. I'm old, I forget these things. I do recall I laffed a lot and read a lot of it aloud to hubby, a sign I liked it!

I read Heart of the Sea and it was great, too. Love those kinds of books.

Have you read "Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea"? That was also a historical story told in a compelling way. http://www.amazon.com/Ship-Gold-Deep-Blue-Sea/dp/0871134640

"The Woman Who Can't Forget" is a bizarre story that a read in a day. http://www.newsweek.com/id/136334

Years ago I read a great book about what makes a survivor--stories of people who survived real life hardships like getting lost in a snowstorm, stranded on mountains, and so on. It also gave tips on what to do to avoid these situations and, based on what people have done to survive (keep hope alive, think outside the box, look for the positive/beauty in despite the situation, etc.), what to do if you find yourself in such a situation (God forbid!).
I can't recall the name of it (boo!), but there is a new book out similar to it now. Fascinating stuff. One of the stories in my book was also an episode of "I Survived" (about four people stranded in a life raft at sea).

Speaking of which--this book is pretty amazing by the guy who survived the longest alone in an inflatable life raft--76 days: "Adrift" by Steve Callahan.

I just finished "Tent Life in Siberia" by George Kennan about the Trans-Siberian Telegraph line going up. It was written in 1870, so it was a little dry, though parts were fascinating and quite funny.

Also just finished "Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey: The River of Doubt" by Candice Millard. It was less dry than "Tent Life" and I learned that Roosevelt almost died from a wound, considered suicide, had malaria, was literally starving, and almost killed a man for shooting one of the men in his party--instead he abandoned the man in the jungle to likely be killed by natives or starvation. Well, now you won't want read it since I've given you all the poop on it--lol!

ANYWAY, enough about what *I've* read--I look forward to hearing more in the near future about what you've read!! :)

Julie

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