03 February, 2009

'Naked' - David Sedaris

He's deceiving, that David Sedaris. Not only is he almost impossible to classify (as discussed in an earlier review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim), it also takes some perseverance to get into the right frame of mind to fully appreciate his essays. He can be outrageously funny, but even while delivering a riposte as sharp as a needle dipped in lemon juice, he can ruminate on deep social questions. Reading for seriousness can mean you miss some humour; reading to laugh can mean missing the provocations that elevate Sedaris above a simple humourist.

In the last, and eponymous, essay in his collection Naked, there is a passage of humour that exceeds even Bill Bryson's awe at the range of incontinence pads he found in an American supermarket. The essay is a lengthy one, describing Sedaris' experience at a nudist camp. He originally requested a brochure for the camp as part of an ongoing joke at the expense of his brother; he later decides to attend for a week, a decision born out of the noble belief that if he can be comfortable being naked around others, he will be better able to accept himself for who he is. That reasoning is a good example of the intellectualism and honesty Sedaris employs in his essays. It's easily missed, however, if, like me, you were still wiping your eyes after reading the previous page:

The brochure [for the nudist camp] pictures a swimming pool...and the inevitable volleyball court, which leaves me to wonder: What is it with these people and volleyball? The two go hand in hand. When I think nudist, I don't think penis - I think net.

Included in the envelope is a calendar of events...In May they held a golf-cart rally, several theme campfires, a chili cook-off, and something called 'Wild West horseback riding'.

Test eye shadow on all the rabbits you want. Strap electrodes to the skulls of rhesus monkeys and shock them into a stupor, but it is inhumane to place a nudist on horseback the day after a chili cook-off. ('Was he always an Appaloosa?')

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