Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (Little Brown: 2010. Paperback version published in 2012). A series of short stories from one of America’s most popular comic writers. Each story is a snippet from the life of different animals, as they go about the business of dating, queuing, hunting, illness, etc.
It was by complete accident that I came across David Sedaris. I was looking for things to go see, trying to find something else to post an Occasional Mid-Week Show Review about, and I saw his name listed somewhere. He was set to appear on stage, reading out some of his essays. I wondered why that was even a thing, so I looked him up. Ten minutes of Googling and a watch of an old Culture Show interview later, and I’d Amazon one-clicked my way to owning a bit of Sedaris material.
He’s just a funny guy, who notices funny stuff. That’s his whole entire thing. But rather than become a stand up, he wrote essays. And he’s become a super star at it (everyone else in the world discovered him long ago). He’s done radio shows that attracted listeners by the millions, sold out big venues with readings, travelled the world - all on the strength of being an amusing little man.
And this little collection is no different. Well, it’s different insofar as it isn’t a collection of essays, it’s a collection of short stories. Parables might be more apt. Take a couple of animals, give them human characteristics, and put them into a situation that we can learn a lesson from. That’s the structure of all of these tales. They’re told with wit and simplicity, and they hit home more often than not.
One or two of them stand above the rest entirely. I was a particular fan of the one about The toad, the turtle and the duck. Similarly, some fell on their face. Some seemed to be cut off just as they were getting interesting. Some felt as if the moral they illustrated could have been more overt. Some felt as if they lost their purpose about half way through. Some felt as if they never really got going.
But they were all (and this is meant 100% as a compliment) pleasant. They were all relaxed and comfortable and amusing. The aisles were never in danger, I didn’t once feel the urge to roll around, but there was a consistent thread of warmth and drollness running through the entire thing.
This is the first thing of his I’ve ever read. I have no idea if this is his usual style, or if he’s mellowed as he’s gone on. Maybe it was just the fact that the scenes were being played out by badgers and butterflies rather than New Yorkers and Londoners. Maybe it’s just that I was reading it as the nights were starting to draw in. But this book felt like a cozy jumper.
I don’t want to belittle it. This whole blog-post sounds patronizing. I know it does. I’ve used the word “little” a bucket full of times. I’m in danger of turning into Cheryl Cole* and calling it a “little star.” I don’t mean to do that. I promise. I put this book down with genuine affection, and I think you should pick it up with eagerness.
But I can’t bring myself to yell from the roof tops about it either. It didn’t leave me breathless in the way DBC Pierre and Glen Duncan did. It didn’t have me zooming through pages with a constant smile in the way Wodehouse does.
I fell in love with this in a more gentle way. The way I feel about custard creams. Yeah, sure, a Yorkie Bar or a Jammie Dodger or a packet of Pringles are all fancier snacks. They’ve got more jazz. They’re louder. They more of a feast for the senses. But custard creams? I’ll always go back to them. They’re pleasing in a quieter way. And so is David Sedaris.
Go read some Sedaris. You’ll fall into a calm kind of love with him.
Next week, the second part of Duncan’s Werewolf trilogy. Thought you deserved it after being kind enough to read the interview. I promise to cut myself off of Duncan for a while after this though. At least until Christmas, anyway.
*I am not in danger of turning into Cheryl Cole