Content Tagged ‘David Sedaris’

My dog tale published

July 6, 2016 | 26 Comments

Top reads of 2015

December 28, 2015 | 6 Comments

M Train is a portrait of the artist in real time. Patti Smith rambles around New York City, travels overseas to attend a meeting of an odd society devoted to continental drift that suddenly disbands; she writes and muses in a beloved café near her East Village townhouse that one day simply closes. She impulsively buys a Far Rockaway beach shack that Hurricane Sandy promptly submerges.

We see her consume much coffee and the odd meal—vegetarian snacks, really, they seem to keep her going. She tends her cats, falls into bed with her clothes on, somehow loses a beloved coat, leaves a special camera on a park bench. Spacey? Truly. Yet paradoxically mindful. She’s always reading, writing, drawing—and charmingly caught up in TV detective series. Her book’s title may refer to memory, where Smith spends many waking hours. Her past and ongoing lives feel deeply processed. A stoic romantic, her globetrotting habits include tending dead poets’ graves.

For all this detail, she leaves out a lot. Her focus may be the key to M Train. And you always know where she is in time and space or flashback—reminiscent of Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own (reviewed)—despite scant connective tissue. She never plods in what’s basically a chronologically intercut with penumbras of backstory. There’s almost nothing on her poetry and music careers; Smith’s past lives emerge as resonant memories during her peripatetic foreground narrative.

This is a widow’s story. A message from someone in her late sixties living with loss. Her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, vanished at age 45, slain by a heart attack; her beloved brother who managed her tours fell to a stroke soon after. Smith’s laconic artistry can be seen in her placement of Fred’s spare scenes. No deathbed stuff, however. And her two adult children don’t appear in this slice of life. If sadness suffuses M Train, the book isn’t glum. Shining through is Smith’s sense, lifelong and apparently innate, of divinity.

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Solnit redux & a sociopath’s story

August 14, 2013 | 10 Comments

My wife and I listened to 2.4 audio books last week as we drove to California on vacation. We put 4,000 miles on our rental car, one way. We saw lovely things, like the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the red cliffs of Sedona, Arizona, where we rested up for a day. Then the endless Mojave Desert of Arizona-California caused me to whimper. While it did break my spirit, I dispute my wife’s assertion—however funny her impersonation of me—that I became catatonic as I drove. But look, I’m a once and future southern boy, a child of green and humid places. When the bare earth between plants stretches to more than a few feet, I get queasy.

Anyway, given the vast ranges we traversed in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, you’d think we would have made more of a dent in the pile of audio books I checked out from the library. We started with a short work, David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice, most of which we’d heard on NPR over years—though I had to wonder if we’d really ever heard all of his famous story about working as a Macy’s elf: like the rest of the collection, it’s hilarious but far sadder and darker than I remembered, maybe an effect of listening to one Sedaris story after another.

The bulk of the trip we spent with the dozen or so CDs of Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which is history for us ordinary folk who haven’t always paid close attention to history—because history sometimes requires that you know more history than you do. Bryson read it himself, and we loved his arch delivery, even if I never could reconcile his ritzy British accent with his photos that show him as the ruddy, beefy man from Iowa that he is. We finished up, driving through California’s fecund central valley, a true agrarian Eden, with Jennifer Egan’s remarkable novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. What a talent she is. One day I’ll finish this book, but I did hear enough to learn that the goons are a wonderful metaphor for aging.

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James Thurber on memory & memoir

June 18, 2013 | 7 Comments

It is his own personal time, circumscribed by the short boundaries of his pain and his embarrassment, in which what happens to his digestion, the rear axle of his car, and the confused flow of his relationships with six or eight persons and two or three buildings is of greater importance than what goes on in the nation or in the universe. He knows vaguely that the nation is not much good any more; he has read that the crust …

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New essay era, 17 classics by women

February 21, 2013 | 6 Comments

  Bonus: Jake Adam York offers a fine minute of writing advice. We’re living in the golden age of essays, proclaims a February 18 essay by Adam Kirsch in  New Republic. In “The New Essayists, or the Decline of a Form? The Essay as Reality Television,” Kirsch immediately invokes as an example John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead, which in another day, with its roots in magazine pieces and celebrity profiles, might have been labeled journalism—but which, as an exciting hybrid of …

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