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Book Review: ‘Naked’ by David Sedaris June 29, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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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

Next Year’s Best Picture Oscar Frontrunner March 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Entertainment, Misc.
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Trailer courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

I would so pay to see this film.

Hewitt ridicules Becker’s man-crush praise June 28, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Tennis.
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Boris Becker

One thing Australian tennis star Lleyton Hewitt loves is being the underdog.  He loves it when critics call him over-the-hill, when they say he is too short, too old, too injured — because it gives him extra motivation to prove them wrong.

Accordingly, when German great Boris Becker decided to develop a man-crush following the Aussie’s unexpected straight sets victory over Frenchman Gael Monfils at the third round of Wimbledon 2010 (6-3, 76, 6-4), Hewitt was not impressed.

“I wouldn’t call him a darkhorse because he’s won the title before” Becker said with ardour in his eyes.  “On a good day, he’s still one of the best grasscourt players around.”

Hewitt did not enjoy the compliment.  “Of course I don’t consider myself a dark horse.  Look at me.  I’m white.  You know, I’ve always had a good record against guys like Monfils.  Look at him.  And look at James Blake.  Now you tell me what the similarity is.”

Of course, this reference harks back to Hewitt’s controversial attempt to get a black linesman removed during his US Open match against African-American James Blake back in 2001.

“It’s good to see him back and healthy and jumping,” Becker added.  “If there’s ever a fight in a bar, you’d want Hewitt in your corner because he doesn’t back off.”

Hewitt did not take a liking to this comment either.  He retorted: “Well I wouldn’t ever want Boris Becker in my corner on a night out.  I don’t want to turn around for a second and find out he’s impregnated my wife in the broom closet.

“And besides, Bec is too busy to be impregnated by Becker.  She’s got a photo shoot with a woman’s mag every week for the next 10 years.  It’s our main source of income now that I’ve fallen out of the top 25.”

These negative comments did not faze Becker from continuing his admiration for the scrappy Aussie with the tremendous endurance.

“…tennis is not only a game of height and power,” Becker explained.  “It’s a matter of heart — and Lleyton’s got one of the biggest on the men’s tour.  He has the heart and mind of a lion.”

“Why would Becker say I have the heart and mind of a lion?” Hewitt replied angrily.  “I’m a fair dinkum human being.  Lions are stupid and lazy, except for Simba from the Lion King.  Is he saying that I’m stupid?”

Desperate to prove Becker wrong, Hewitt promptly went out and lost his next match to Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

“That’ll be the last time someone compares me to an animal,” Hewitt said happily after the match.  “The size of my heart is equal to the size of Boris Becker’s pecker.”

When asked exactly how big that is, Hewitt responded:

[PS: None of this really happened.]

Book Review: “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris February 17, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews.
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So I told a good friend of mine that I was thinking of writing a book about some of my experiences over the last few years. 

The book had to be clever, witty and funny, I said.  I gave him a few top secret examples of what I intended to write about, and my friend said, “This stuff reminds me of a book I read recently.  It is so awesome.  You have to read it.”

The next day he brought the book for me.  It had a skeleton smoking a cigarette on the cover (which turned out to be a 1885 Van Gogh!).  The author’s name is David Sedaris (award-winning, best-selling author that I didn’t know), and the book’s name is When You Are Engulfed in Flames.  It is his sixth book, and as of 2008, Sedaris had sold over seven million books all up.

However, I was sceptical.  The book cover didn’t really appeal to me, and the blurb on the back was very ‘meh’.  Didn’t seem like a particularly interesting read.

Well, I was dead wrong.  This David Sedaris guy is truly a genius comedic writer.

I don’t throw around such titles lightly.  To me, making people laugh out loud with writing on the page is the hardest thing to do.  A lot of books considered “funny” are really just “amusing”.  I might smile at the book every now and then, but rarely does writing make me laugh out loud, especially when I am in public.

To be fair, I don’t usually read a lot of “funny” books, but in recent memory, only four books have made me laugh out loud, hard, and consistently when reading it: The Basketball Diaries (1978) by Jim Carroll, American Psycho (1991) by Bret Easton Ellis, The Timewaster Letters (2004) by Robin Cooper, and the one I am currently reading, Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (2009) (review coming soon).

I now add When You Are Engulfed in Flames to that list.

The book is a memoir, a collection of essays, or an autobiography of sorts.  It comprises 22 chapters of varying lengths, each chapter tackling a different topic, scenario, or period in Sedaris’ life.  It’s almost like a collection of short stories, because the chapters aren’t necessarily linked or in chronological order.  However, whatever Sedaris is talking (or writing) about, it’s funny.  Whether it’s retelling a story about burning mice, getting angry at a horny taxi driver, wondering if he should remove a lozenge that has fallen from his mouth into a sleeping passenger’s lap, or trying to quite smoking in Tokyo, Sedaris manages to find the hilarious in daily life.

There is something about Sedaris’ writing.  He talks about everyday things and experiences, but there’s always a twist to it – whether it’s some witty dialogue or sharp thought, or some colourful insight into the dark side of human nature.  Often it feels like he is being self-deprecating, but really, he’s just being brutally honest with himself.  His ability to turn what would otherwise be a mundane topic into a riveting read, often with a touch of poignancy, makes me extremely jealous.  So does his willingness to discuss some extremely awkward, disgusting or offputting subjects, seemingly without embarrassment or hesitation.

I would say that the first 100 pages or so (of the 310-page book) is not quite as good as the rest of the book, which is unusual as there is a tendency to put the best stuff upfront.  The turning point for me was the chapter on Sedaris’ crazy old neighbour Helen.  She’s what would best be described as a loudmouth sociopath who has nothing better to do apart from make the lives of those around her miserable.  But somehow, Sedaris manages to portray her as somewhat endearing, I’m sure, reflecting his own mixed emotions about her.  He brings Helen to life with vivid descriptions of her rants and disregard for normal human decency, but at the same time he makes her almost sympathetic, especially towards the end.

From that point on, the book was virtually unputdownable for me.

5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I do not dare compare myself to David Sedaris.  It is, however, something to strive for.]

Funniest stuff I have read in ages! January 16, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging.
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Recently I came across a new blog called ‘Anonymous alterego’s adventures’.

It is the funniest stuff I have read in a very long time.  Whoever this guy is, he is a genius.

Check it out at: http://uioae.wordpress.com

I’m adding him to my blogroll.

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