Would you like to know something seriously ironic about suddenly being stuck indoors for 14 days, unable to leave the four walls of your mum’s house in case you accidentally super-spread coronavirus all over the NSW coast? I have not been able to do anything with this abundance of time. Read one book, just one single book? Physically incapable. Write a blog post that isn’t just manic drivel? Absolutely not. I had no idea how much my concentration span was tied to stimuli from the outside world. I also had no idea how much I’d miss things like buying dumb stuff from the supermarket and putting pants on in the morning.
So dipping in and out of David Sedaris’ essays has been a godsend in quarantine. One of my favourite humans and housemates gave me a copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames last Christmas and I brought it home with me on the off-chance I’d have time to read it while on holiday (what a joke). While my brain has not allowed me to sit with it for too long, each essay is short and sharp and I’ve been able to pick it up, have a giggle and put it back down again without needing to retrace my steps through a novel, because instead of reading my brain was actually thinking about whether I’d ever see the outside world again.
Sedaris is famous for his dry, hilarious, unerring accounts of the mundane. This particular collection, first published in 2008, is full of comic observations about the smallest, most trivial things, told in a way that cleverly removes the pathos from these events and has made me laugh out loud at random intervals while my mum and sister count down the minutes until I’m allowed to leave the house. I’ve definitely found some of his anecdotes uncomfortably apolitical at times and there are some words and references in there that absolutely would not be published today, but there is no denying 2008 was a rogue year, certainly not one that made any real leaps in social justice awareness.
Sure, we had some advancements in the state of the world – Obama became President, Breaking Bad came out, I turned twelve. But Putin also became PM and, while the world went into financial crisis (not his fault. I don’t think?), we were walking around in Supré singlets with those scarves that are just one giant continuous circle and headbands we sported in the middle of our foreheads. If what I remember of my first year of high school is anything to go by, the world was outrageously inept at political correctness. I can only imagine this lack of awareness is part of the draw of Sedaris – he doesn’t seem to give one iota of a fuck. A downside of this for me is that it doesn’t make him the most likeable character in his own stories, however it would be incredibly un-Sedaris if that were his intention. It’s also partly the reason he is so, so funny.
Recommending Sedaris to anyone who reads is like talking to a TV buff about The Sopranos as if you have just discovered a cool new indie thing (my one and only accomplishment of isolation has been watching Tony Soprano do some mad mafia shit for hours upon hours a day). I am now one of those infuriating people recommending something everyone already knows about, but I don’t see how it’s my fault that it took approximately an entire three years of my colleague nagging me to read Sedaris before I did anything about it. Personally, I never thought the musings of an exceedingly privileged white man would do it for me, but if you are in any small way miserable, I can guarantee he will lift you up.