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Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

Book review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

This touchstone of comic, personal essay writing is in fine form with new tales of England, his family, book tours and buying condoms with his brother-in-law.


By David Sedaris. Little, Brown, $27.

To quote (Christopher Nolan’s) Commissioner Gordon: “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, not the one it needs.” Out of context, this convoluted notion about Batman just might be fitting for dark and droll This American Life folk hero David Sedaris. One moment he’s the devil on our shoulder: selfish, petty and gleefully eviscerating gullible dopes with a flick of his barbed tongue. The next moment, he’s the sensitive angel, quietly encouraging human connection almost against his will. Sedaris isn’t going to save our rotting, modern souls, but as our wickedly witty proxy, he’ll make sure we embarrass ourselves laughing on the subway.

While Sedaris’s faithful followers take his autobiographical facts alongside his fiction—as with 2010’s short-story collection Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk—the writer is at his most biting and crowd-pleasing while talking about family and fish-out-of-water foibles. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls has both, as the author relocates to the English countryside, treks across the globe for book tours and visits his former home of Raleigh, North Carolina. There are new encounters with Sedaris’s father and sisters, and even when life’s vicissitudes only passingly affect his worldview, they still provide ample opportunities for him to x-ray incidences of asshattery.

While Owls could do without its handful of preachy, polemical sketches, the essays find Sedaris in fine form. Though the biggest artifacts of his life have long since been dusted off and examined, there are still discoveries from both past and present. (An essay about the young Sedaris’s aggressive Anglophilia, and how it helps him avoid the grief associated with his mother’s death, is revealing.) Of course, there are lines the reader will want to share with everyone in earshot—the one that did it for us involves Sedaris failing to look straight while buying condoms with his sister’s husband. (His brother-in-law adding strawberries to the cart “somehow made us look even gayer. ‘After anal sex, we like shortcake!’ read the cartoon bubble now floating above our heads.”) . We know this sort of thing won’t fix the economy, but for the moment, it’ll fix us.

David Sedaris reads at McNally Jackson Books May 10 and the powerHouse Arena May 11.

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