Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris“Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly.” – See You Again Yesterday

Though he’s not likely to actually be confused for an evil baby or a hillbilly, in the twenty-seven autobiographical essays that comprise Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris is wickedly funny and refreshingly down to earth.

The down to earth part is a particularly impressive feat considering his family: five siblings, each with their own personality quirk (a hard-core rap loving brother who nicknames himself ‘The Rooster’ and a ‘tanorexic’ among them); a wise-cracking mother who helps the Easter Bunny “branch out” by filling their Easter baskets with cartons of cigarettes; and an engineer father manically obsessed with jazz and hoarding food. A deep well to draw from, no doubt.

A few of the more notable essays include: “The Learning Curve” (a brutally honest, highly amusing self-assessment of his stint as a woefully unqualified teacher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), “You Can’t Kill The Rooster” (recounting the exploits of his hilariously profane bantamweight younger brother), and “Picka Pocketoni” (actually a rather poignant essay in which Sedaris, an American living in France, makes some frank observations about American tourists).

The clear standouts of the book though are unquestionably a trio that deal with the author’s move to France and subsequent enrollment in a French language class. The first two, “See You Again Yesterday” and the book’s title essay “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” recount Sedaris’s early time in France during which he speaks first like “an evil baby,” only able to use simple nouns and verbs. Eventually he graduates to “hillbilly” level communication, in which the concepts he can express are a little more advanced, even if the subject verb agreement isn’t. (Asking a butcher about cow brains: “Is thems the thoughts of cows?”)

The one that will have you doubled over with laughter, however, is “Jesus Shaves,” in which Sedaris and his fellow students try to explain to a Muslim member of the class – using only their butchered French – what Easter is: “A party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus.” “He make the good things and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.” “Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb. One, too, may eat of the chocolate.” Things only go downhill from there once the concept of a rabbit delivering chocolate gets injected into the mix.

Like Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors), Sedaris mines his odd family and unique upbringing for much of his material. Unlike with Burroughs, however, there’s never that sense of creepiness that made me feel like I needed to take a shower after reading some parts of Running With Scissors. Sedaris’s writing is also reminiscent of David Foster Wallace (Consider the Lobster), though Sedaris’s sarcasm is always presented with tongue planted firmly in cheek, never rising to the level of vitriol that occasionally taints Wallace’s work.

Though there are a couple of duds in the bunch, overall Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of wonderfully humorous essays that will have you laughing out loud – read in public at your own risk.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is available from Back Bay Books (ISBN: 978-0316776967).

David Sedaris is a Grammy Award-nominated American humorist, writer, comedian, and radio contributor. In addition to Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris has also authored the essay collections Naked, Holidays on Ice, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames, all of which were New York Times Best Sellers.
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8 Comments

  • Pop Culture Nerd

    June 30, 2010 - 3:15 pm

    I’d suggest CORDUROY or FLAMES but whichever one you choose, you can’t go wrong. They’re all hilarious.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    June 30, 2010 - 12:18 pm

    Can’t decided which of his to go after next. Thoughts anyone?

  • Pop Culture Nerd

    June 30, 2010 - 3:05 am

    Oh, I love Sedaris. So excited you’ve found him. He always gives me belly laughs, sometimes in appropriate places like in bed while my husband is trying to sleep or in a library.

    I have to say, though, I’d rather read than listen to him. I’d read him for years before attempting my first audiobook and his voice didn’t match how I imagined it at all. It was too jarring and I immediately had to stop listening.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy)

    June 29, 2010 - 9:36 am

    I love David Sedaris and can’t wait to read this! I think I will really appreciate the essays about France since I’ve lived there.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    June 28, 2010 - 12:51 pm

    Susan, isn’t that one of the most awesome things about books – that there are always more out there just waiting to be discovered!

    And I’ve heard a LOT of feedback from people (including you and Felicia) that Sedaris must be heard to get the ultimate experience, so I may just have to break down and get my first ever audio book.

  • susan c shea

    June 28, 2010 - 12:41 pm

    Ah, you’ve discovered David Sedaris. Lucky you. We only get to do that once. And you’ve zoomed right to my all-time favs, the language lessons. Every time (and there are multiple times) I listen, I wind up snorting with laughter as he negotiates the hardware store and the butcher’s shop. I loved it in print but hearing him read it adds something special. Thanks for reminding me it’s about time to listen again.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    June 28, 2010 - 12:23 pm

    It was my first by him, but definitely won’t be the last.

  • Felicia

    June 28, 2010 - 10:42 am

    He and AB are on my audible wishlist! I love listening to memoirs 🙂

    ~Felicia @ Geeky Bloggers Book Blog