The other day, a few close friends (or maybe they were complete strangers, which is just about the same thing these days) were discussing the current phenomenon of the Gen-X memoir, in which people in their early 30s put to paper their lives' great adventures, which usually amount to little more than an addiction to nicotine, pornography and prescription anti-depressants. Everyone in our little group knew someone younger than us writing an autobiography; none of these authors, surprisingly enough, was named Elizabeth Wurtzel, who's responsible for a trilogy of such books. "Remember when you actually had to do something noteworthy to write an autobiography?" someone asked, rather naïvely. "Now, all you have to do is suck someone off while on Prozac and crystal meth." Surprisingly, that last part was the original name of Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions, till he realized he was writing about theoretical science, world peace and human rights.
David Sedaris isn't one of those self-absorbed sobmongers, though he's been writing and talking about himself for a decade--since he was in his early 30s, when life's only beginning to get interesting for most people (for some, well, it just never happens). His wasn't a tragic childhood (he's no Dave Eggers, gulping down the milk of human tragedy and laughing till it comes out his nose) or an abnormal one, though growing up one of six kids in a Greek-American household in North Carolina might qualify as anomalous to some. He's gay, which counts for something, since there's not a gay guy alive who isn't funnier than the funniest straight person (look, Christopher Lowell and Isaac Mizrahi don't even have to try). His biggest quirk is that he won't write on computers, which wasn't quirky, like, 20 years ago. We know a lot about him (that he lives in France, for instance, with his lover Hugh; that he smokes Kools; that he has a strange obsession with the contents of certain toilets); the difference is, he doesn't care if we care, so we can't help but.
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Basically, Sedaris, recipient of more literary huzzahs than Jedediah Purdy and Andy Behrman and David Rakoff combined, is just a normal guy amused and slightly befuddled by the world and his place in it. He's smart but rarely smart-ass, gross but never just a gross-out artist, observant but never obtrusive when remarking on the silliness around him, mordant but never so bitchy you don't feel for him or the people he's writing about (he's always nicer to others than to himself). Sedaris--author of short stories (collected in, among others, Barrel Fever and Me Talk Pretty One Day) and plays (including Stitches and The Book of Liz, written with sister Amy) and an NPR regular (where his "SantaLand Diaries" became more popular than a pledge drive)--is brilliant because he wants only to make us feel--to grin and chuckle and fall over laughing, mostly, but also to feel connected to a world that makes every effort to keep us at a distance. He wants to delight, and in doing so, as writer and reader, he dazzles.