Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, etc. is writer David Sedaris’s 10th collection of nonfiction essays. This time, he includes tiny character pieces.

Sedaris writes with warmth, even when he describes situations or people he hates, and there are many. Most of the essays in this collection work the same way as those in his past. He recalls memories of his angry father, eccentric sisters, and his travels abroad with his long-term boyfriend Hugh, and through them explores not just diabetes but Obama’s presidency, slow government bureaucracies, racial tension, and a writer’s ennui.

Each essay is as funny as those in his most famous published collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day, which came out approximately 13 years prior, but they are not as focused. Where Pretty‘s essays contain clear theses, Owls‘s start one place and end in another. For the majority of the time, Sedaris’s writing is so strong that it alone justifies an essay’s existence, but then there are the ones that it can’t justify, and they slow the collection’s pace considerably.

That said, the collection’s greatest weaknesses are its character pieces. The “etc.” in the title. At the beginning of Owls, Sedaris explains these are basically writing excerpts with which performers of all kinds can use to audition, which is great, and they contain strong characters, so in that way they’re a success, but here they are part of a published collection, and so they should be as entertaining to read. They’re not. The characters on the page come across as very narrow-minded. It seems as though Sedaris wants to explore the minds that differ greatly from his own, which is a noble choice, but, ironically, I believe it’s his practice retrieving the most relevant details of his own past that makes him unable to create characters of the same depth. How can a character of fiction compete with reality?

Overall, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, etc. is worth reading, and arguably required reading for those whose favourite genre is either nonfiction or humour.

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