Book Review: ‘Naked’ by David Sedaris June 29, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
Tags: Arts, comedic writing, comedy, comic writing, David Sedaris, Dix Hill, humor, Naked, Naked (book), Naked 1997, Naked book review, Naked review, Planet of the Apes
For me, David Sedaris is the master. When it comes to the type of comedic writing I want to be able to emulate, there’s nobody better than him. Having attempted (well, attempting) comedic writing myself over the last few months, I am discovering first hand just how difficult it is to make writing amusing. And Sedaris’s writing is not just amusing — it’s consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but at the same time it is incredibly clever and somehow manages to maintain an air of sophistication.
In my efforts to be more Sedaris-like in my own writings, I sought out one of his earlier books, Naked, published in 1997. Like the other Sedaris book I read, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (review here), Naked can be classified as a collection of ‘personal essays’ of varying lengths. Each essay covers an aspect or person of Sedaris’s life, from early childhood to adulthood, and are filled with outrageous characters (many of which are in Sedaris’s family) and anecdotes.
Titles of some of the my favourite essays include ‘A Plague of Tics’ (about Sedaris’s obsessive compulsive tendencies as a child), ‘Dix Hill’ (when Sedaris worked in a mental hospital as a teenager), ‘I Like Guys’ (where Sedaris discovers his homosexuality), ‘The Drama Bug’ (when Sedaris became a theatre fanatic and spoke in Shakespearean for months), ‘Planet of the Apes’ (about Sedaris’s hitchhiking stories), ‘The Incomplete Quad’ (where Sedaris shared dorms with quadriplegic students for free housing), and ‘Naked’ (about Sedaris’s experiences in a nudist colony).
Yes, as the above suggests, Sedaris is a weird, neurotic, somewhat disturbed guy, but he embraces it with a bizarre sense of self-righteousness and humility. His stories are hilarious because they are so brutally honest, and each joke almost always provides some kind of insight into human nature. And every now and then he would surprise you with a dash of poignancy, like the piece on his mother’s passing from cancer (‘Ashes’).
Sedaris weaves his internal thoughts, the anecdotes, the stories and the characters together effortlessly with elegant, clean prose, marvellous dialogue (some of which are really mini-soliloquies), astute observations and crafty storytelling. The thing that amazes me most about Sedaris’s writing is that he knows exactly what words to use to convey the image he wants you to form in your mind. His descriptions are brief but on the money just about every time, and he can give you a pretty good idea of what a person is like in a just a couple of slabs of dialogue. He brings his characters to life in a way that few writers can.
I didn’t necessarily like every piece in the book, though that being said, each piece had its moments and I absolutely loved around half a dozen of the 17 essays. I am certain that I will read his work again (and hopefully sooner rather than later).
4.5 out of 5
Book Review: ‘The Boat’ by Nam Le June 21, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
Tags: Arts, Australia, Boat, ethnic stories, Iowa Writers' Workshop, Nam Le, refugees, short story, short story collection, The Boat, the boat book, The Boat Nam Le, The boat review, Vietnam
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Award-winning writer Nam Le is kind of a hero to me. Refugee parents from Vietnam, grew up in Australia, became a lawyer, hated it, quit, then pursued a life of writing. Studied at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and published his first book, The Boat, a collection of short stories. Won a zillion awards for it including the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2009 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Book of the Year.
Single-author short story collections are almost extinct these days (and with good reason — it seems most readers prefer their books to tell a big story, or even part of a massive story, and reading different stories in the same voice from the same writer can potentially become tedious). That’s why The Boat is such a phenomenal achievement. The stories are so varied in scope and depth, characters and location, and yet are capable of being so honest, painful, beautiful and haunting — it’s a powerful collection from a confident, crafty writer who knows exactly what he’s doing.
The Boat contains seven short stories, each ranging from around 25-50 pages in length. They take us all around the world, to places like Iowa, Colombia Vietnam, Tehran, Hiroshima, New York, Australia. They are all literary pieces that exhibit fine craftsmanship and stunning imagery (not surprising considering Le started out in poetry), so they won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. Even though they are short, some of them can be considered as slow-paced, the type of story you need to take in slowly and savour, bit by bit, and maybe re-read once you’re done.
I enjoyed reading The Boat as a book, but as is the case with most short story collections, I preferred some stories more than others. For me, the best stories were at the beginning and end. The first one, entitled Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, is a powerful story about a strained relationship between father and son. The last one, The Boat, is about a young girl’s journey on a refugee boat and the bond she forms with a small boy. These two were my favourites. Was it a coincidence that both of them were heavily linked to Le’s Vietnamese background? I don’t know, but I found them the most honest, the most engaging. Does that mean the other stories about cultures Le might not be as familiar with weren’t as good? Maybe. I’ll leave that to the individual reader to decide, but to me it is amazing that he even attempted to write about things that ought to be completely foreign to him. I only wish I could develop that kind of self-assuredness someday.
You don’t see many short story collections getting published these days, but The Boat is the kind of book that made me wish there were more of them.
4 out of 5
The end is just the beginning June 15, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
Tags: Arts, Education, Master's degree, publisher, publishing, self publishing, writer, Writing
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My masters course has finally finished.
With (soon to be) two masters degrees hanging on my walls I have also become a master of avoiding full-time work as well. Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on no less than three projects — the secret mini-book I’ll be shopping around for publishers or self-publish, continuing my masters novel, and getting my good old fantasy novel back on track. And yes, looking for that much needed job will be high on the priority list as well.
Strangely, there is no relief after completing this masters degree like my previous degrees. Perhaps it’s because I actually wanted to study this time instead of doing it out of obligation. Or perhaps it’s because I now have to put what I have learned over the last 18 months into practice.
It feels a lot more like a beginning than an end.
Dictating a novel? May 20, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study, Technology.
Tags: Apple, Arts, books, dictation, fiction, iPad, novel writing, recording, transcribing, writer, Writing
I’ve really been struggling trying to get my novel project into shape the last few days. When I’m away from the computer I have a million thoughts running through my head, and I feel like I am ready to write the best shit ever. But as soon as I sit down and start typing, I’ve got nothin’.
The other day, just before heading out, I was taking a shower when I pretty much planned out an entire chapter of my novel in my head, or so I thought. I was really excited, but I didn’t have time to write anything down because I had to head out immediately.
I was driving when I had an idea. Using the recording app on my iPad, I started dictating the chapter to my novel that was in my head during the shower. It was surprisingly effective. In about 25 minutes, I had more or less dictated the entire chapter.
That night I went home and transcribed it. It wasn’t great, but at least I got it out of my system and it allowed me to fix it as I went along, almost like editing a rough first draft.
All of this amazed me, considering as a lawyer I never used the dictation systems they had in place because I found it all too hard and awkward. I also wasn’tMaybe it was just because I didn’t know what to say.
Could this be a new way for me to write? Has anyone else tried it?
Unfortunately for me, writing first drafts of chapters is no longer my concern anymore. I now have to actually shape the drafts into good shit, which I have discovered is even harder. D’oh.