What does it take for writers to be read? There are a lot of writers and aspirants out there, and they all dream of fame: some might have the talent; and some might have the skills, some might have both, or some might not have nothing at all. Regardless, there are necessary skills required for writers to succeed. To know thy audience; to know thy purposes; and, to commit to their distinctive styles–are the keys to successful writing.
Lester Faigley, author of the Brief Penguin Handbook emphasizes “Readers do not expect writers to tell them something that they know already.” Faigley further stresses that if readers can predict exactly where a writer is going, even if they fully agree, they will either skim to the end or stop reading” (1). No wonder why, New Yorker humorist David Sedaris delivers his incredible sense of humor with so much passion in all of his writings. (2) His humor entertains a lot of people. Although, it also triggers harsh and below-the-belt allegations from his critics and fellow writers too. As they accuse him of lies and delusions to win readers, and to be in the prestigious list of New York’s Best Sellers.
However, Sedaris is successful not only in writing, but also in entertaining readers of his books and essays. Likewise, avid listeners of his program at BBC Radio (and audio books), even TV viewers, who followed his appearances in most late night talk shows have enjoyed his unique comic style .
In April & Paris, a narrative written in 2008, released in his book, When Engulfed in Flames, he uses the same sardonic humor of self-deprecation and anthropomorphism. (5)
The setting is at Normandy, France, where Sedaris lives (as of this writing) with his French partner (his preferred term of endearment) Hugh Hamrick. (6) He kicks off by sharing his opinion on how TV programs could earn viewers and collect donations by instead of featuring human sufferings, using animals in distressed could be a very lucrative alternative.
Sedaris narrates how viewers respond so positively to a video clip showing a puppy lolling around, above the roofs after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. (7) From there, he swifts to the injustice that a growing up camel named Patsy suffers in the hands of his own family.
Those two separate stories about animals are his ways of bringing his audience to his main agenda of a “love affair” (which is more of a taboo) with a spider of tarantula-type, of whom he named April.
Sedaris shares eloquently his deep affection for the spider that he even brought the insect with him and Hamrick on their way back to Paris.He even confesses how he ends up catching flies in the dumpster just to feed April.
Such unique style of satire has brought Sedaris to fame. Ironically, it is the same reason why his critics find him delusional and psychotic.
In his review of Sedaris works, Alex Heard, director of Outside Magazine, says “Whether he understood the difference between fiction and nonfiction was a moot at this point–he could have label his next book “hallucinations” and it would sell–but the principle still matters. The editors and radio producers who packaged Sedaris’s earlier work certainly knew the difference. They knew that, in our time, nonfiction is bankable in ways that fiction is not. What bugs me is that they milked the term for all its value, while laughing off any of the ethical requirements it entails” (8).
It seems Heard overlooked the main considerations to come up with a credible evaluation of Sedaris.
For there are two most basic fundamentals that all writers must adhere. Number one: Writers should know their audience. Number two: Writers must have a clear understanding of the purpose of their writing. But is Sedaris in adherence to these fundamentals that warrants such barbaric attacks from Heard?
Assuming the latter does not have access to library databases, according to Wikipedia: “David Sedaris (born December 26, 1956) is a Grammy Award nominee, American humorist, writer, comedian, bestselling author, and radio contributor. Sedaris has been described as ‘the rock star of writers’. He was first publicly recognized in 1992 when he broadcast his essay stories. He published his first collection of essays and short stories, Barrel Fever, in 1994. His next five subsequent essay collections, Naked (1997), Holidays on Ice (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008), have become New York Times Best Sellers. In 2010, he released another collection of stories Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.” (10) As of 2008, his books have collectively sold seven million copies.
With just those first two sentences alone, of the previous paragraph, of the most common resource of information, it is clear Sedaris is writing as an entertainer.
In writing literary analysis, we are not only required in interpreting, we also have to evaluate effectively, which is only attainable through research and in-depth reading. We must commit ourselves to the process, more so if we are evaluating a fellow writer.
We must know that fellow’s background (from personal, educational, and professional), the writer’s style and even that writer’s audience, before we even contemplate on evaluating one’s literary works. Because it is imprudent for one to make evaluations out of prejudice, more so to “inflict” readers with such unhealthy thoughts.
No one can truly say what triggers Heard to prejudicially evaluate Sedaris in such uncivilized ways. He calls him “midget-” that alone is foul! (11) What does it has to do with Sedaris’ writing?
For there is a huge difference between a common exaggeration, and the exaggeration for the sake of pure joy, just as Sedaris may have exaggerated for the purpose of entertainment. But not because he wants fame out of deceit.
Sedaris is even uncomfortable with the word fame and be treated as famous (as narrated in his other essay Journey into Night and confessed in one TV interview). (12)
Overemphasizing a fact, for the sake of entertainment does not constitute lying. Yes, Sedaris may have exaggerated, as he previously admitted. (13) But it does not mean he is fabricating facts and dialogues. (14) For it is our responsibility to consider our readers too; how the story would affect their interests, their cultures, their beliefs, and their needs; to engage them more to our stories, and eventually to our writing stint.
Moreover, writers of literature should not stick to the facts and deprive the manuscripts of art and creativity.
In addition, writers are entitled to styles, in which we use different techniques to release our expressive and creative powers. (16) We can’t just write, if the situation calls for some entertainment. More so, in the case of Sedaris who uses all his work in radio program and TV guesting.
For writers of all genres, use various strategies; right-brain techniques of clustering, recurrence, re-vision, image and metaphor, creative tension, language rhythm, and vivid imaginations, in order to be creative and win readers. (17)
Sedaris gained his popularity by simply being smart and funny. His sardonic style, his interests on anthropomorphism, his being hilarious yet soft-spoken, all those are greatly and dearly appreciated by his readers.
He writes like a child who is candid; he seems struggling in expressing his observations on everything and everybody that surrounds him, all because he is inquisitive. He views life in the most funny ways, and I truly enjoyed his writings. He inspires many of his valiant guts (in expressing his individuality being a homosexual), which is present in all his works.
A lot of academic and literary writers do like Sedaris too, just like David Reynolds who made an in depth analysis of Sedaris’s writing. Reynolds stated “Through excerpts of Sedaris many collections of autobiographical essays (e.g. Naked: Me Talk Pretty One Day; Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim), he shows us commonalities in Sedaris accounts of growing up gay in North Carolina, examines of his descriptions of the odd jobs and odd people he encountered in Chicago and New York City, and chronicles of his social struggles as an American now living in France. In this, he shows how Sedaris most frequently uses shame, self-deprecation, and defamiliarization to make readers laugh aloud at potentially serious subject matter. Kopelson compares Sedaris’s writing to that of classic authors—most often citing early 20th-century French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust leaving this book open use by scholars, as a textbook in a creative writing course, or as a means simply to entertain and educate Sedaris’ fans,” (18).
In conclusion, it is remarkably clear that Sedaris is so brave and smart to introduce a unique style of writing that is rare nowadays. According to Steven Barclay , “With sardonic wit and incisive social critiques, David Sedaris has become one of America’s preeminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Sedaris is a master of satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today,” (19).
Finally, for his talent, wit and sense of humor, and phenomenal writing style: Sedaris truly deserves his success–and therefore, to be on our spotlight!