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  • Naked
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am 8. Januar 2000
I first heard of Sedaris through his reading of "True Detective" on NPR (fudge-colored towels). I actually sat in my parked car at the grocery store to hear the whole thing. I didn't realise the reading was from an entire collection so I was delighted to stumble across Naked a few months later. I am eagerly awaiting the audio version from the library. Until then, I am half-way through the book. Last night my husband and I were reduced to tears and painful belly laughs as I read aloud from "Cyclops". This morning as we were on our way to his work, I read aloud from "I Like Guys". I am two-thirds of the way through the book and thus far I prefer the earlier entries involving Sedaris' childhood over the latter entries involving his travels and odd-jobs. Yet even those are engrossing and entertaining. Had I been Sedaris' editor I would have left out "Dix Hill" and "Incomplete Quad" neither of which has added anything to the collection. Rather, I found myself skimming quickly, impatient for the next entry. For those who think Sedaris' tales are implausable just think of the last time you rode public transportation. I recently had a Girl Friday sort of job that was fraught with just the sort of experiences that would make an unbelievable story had I the inclination or the talent to record them. The kid who I pawned the job off on took notes. For any of you have ever had the inward thought, "What are all these incompetents doing on the set of MY movie?" this book is for you.
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am 21. Juli 2000
The fiendish prose of David Sedaris, once I got past the disorienting first chapter, held me hostage. Never once did I want to be part of this family, but by gosh, I kept wanting to extend my visit. By the time I reached "next of kin", I had surrendered all my critical objectivity, and simply gloried in the family's reaction to the dreadfully proofread pornographic novel that gives the chapter its title. Part of the tremendous humor lies in *naked*'s truths: all children know where their parents keep the porno -- if there is any. (My mother's copy of *Fanny Hill* was hidden behind the fourth shelf above her bed).
On the other hand, the faint aura of loneliness that hovers over the text keeps this book from being a quick joke. The conclusion of "the incomplete quad" -- the unsentimental tale of travels with a quadriplegic -- does not spare the reader. And throughout *naked*, as I laughed, I was also haunted by a son who knows his mother is lying for him ("the drama bug"), and whose father tells deliciously gruesome tales and wonders why his children have no gumption ("Cyclops"). I confess that all those tics ("a plague of tics") also worried me. That may come of being a mother.
Three major points: *naked* made me laugh hard. Really hard. I even sent a copy of *naked* to my nephew for his birthday. And, finally, and not least, I am delighted that at last I understand the importance of a towel at a nudist colony.
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am 16. Juli 2000
This book is classified as a memoir, and it's the funniest one I've read to date. Growing up Greek in North Carolina couldn't have been easy, but adding to the mix a crazy grandmother and a sibling with a penchant for using towels as toilet paper makes it that much harder (and funnier, to us).
David was struck with enthusiastic OCD as a child, only to find ways to "cure" his tics in college. His stories of life after schooling include apple-picking and packing, working with jade (not to mention a crazy, hypocritical Christian), and refinishing woodwork with a Jew-hating Lithuanian and a somewhat confused black guy. He hitchhikes with all levels of human decapitation until a rowdy truck driver combs thicket by the roadside looking for him.
Not all of the fifteen stories are side-splitting funny. "I Like Guys" highlights accepting his homosexual feelings, and an undercurrent of seriousness lines the story. "Ashes" tells of his mother's cancer, and a sense of tragedy seems to sober his usually razor-sharp satirical style.
The last (and title) story, "Naked", tells of his experience with a nudist colony. It's written in more a journal form (the others are written in a 'flashback' form) and by the end, you feel strange in your own clothing.
I definitely plan on recommending this book to my friends. I don't see how you could live your life without picking up a Sedaris book.
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am 8. Juli 2000
I don't like admitting this to myself (and frankly, I don't like admitting this to all of you out there), but I identified deeply with the main character in David Sedaris' book. And before you start screaming at your computer screen, I know that the main character is David himself, and it's not really a novel, but a collection of humour essays. I see him as a character, because I just can't believe that all of these fantastic stories are true. Is there some truth there? I'm sure. But embellishment seems obvious.
Anyway, back to my first thought. The David in the book is an intellectual snob, verbose and thoughtful, unsure of himself in most ways except his sexuality, but extremely sure that he knows what's best for the world and all its inhabitants. And he's damn funny, too. I can relate to most of that (I'll let you choose what I mean), so getting inside the head of such a witty and conflicted man was a real treat.
The first fifteen 'stories' in the book are well put together pieces on modern life as David sees it. The best of that lot includes "A Plague of Tics" in which David is attacked by a hyperactive form of O.C.D., and "C.O.G.", a wonderful riff on the whole Kerouacian lifestyle gone completely wrong. These first fifteen pieces, however, only form a prelude to some of the best writing I've read in years.
The second last piece, "Ashes", about David's mother's battle with cancer is what good writing should be: humourous and poignant, without ever being melodramatic. He wrings literature from real life, and makes the most of a heartbreaking situation. I can imagine what kind of catharsis it must have been for him.
The last piece (I want to call it the title track), "Naked", is about a trip to a nudist colony. I found myself busting a gut in the middle of a crowded subway car. It is sparkling comedy.
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am 27. August 1998
Imagine a drawer crowded with all the emotional language, the symbols and feelings, values and aspirations, that ornament popular vehicles of representational reality, that bedeck and bespangle all manner of storytelling, of bestsellers, movies, TV, and even emotionally color, seep into, that which is supposedly impersonal or factual--news, sports, and textbooks--pervading our culture so thoroughly as to go unnoticed, as to be merely assumed part of the landscape, and, as such, inevitably assimilated, taken as our own, as us.
There beneath stories of the "dysfunctional," the "victimization," alcohol abuse, drug rehab, pedophilia, rape and ethnic pride; there under all that gender equality, gay liberation, multicultural, rainbow coalition empowerment, self-invention, and special group interests, supporting the whole ragtag phantasmagoria that is used everyday to tug at our heart strings from TV, movie screens, and the page is just the simplest of ideas: ME ME ME ME ME mine mine mine mine. Underlying too much of what currently aspires to pathos is self-interest disguised as self-pity, the latter being little more than the rubber band of the ego relaxing momentarily.
Sedaris dips everything he writes about in the bitter acid of self-pity, going so far as to pour cold contempt on his subjects; his failings are accepted, those of others mostly derided. The bounteous criticism of everyone else and the world is difficult to endure from a man who can boast no significant accomplishment, who has endured no special trial, seen no special sights, glimpsed no unique vision, nor has any new opinions or ideas to share with the reader. The heart of humor, that affection and love bestowed on the objects of derision or satire, including oneself, is so absent that the merest human kindness which occasionally surfaces here seems a miracle; nor is there anything like the lofty, disinterested intellectual meat or imagination of a Swift. Sedaris' catty negativity (he is a homosexual) is unrelieved, wearing, and abrasive. His heart is not large or generous enough to admit the fondness for the stumbling, bumbling fool found in Thurber or Ring Lardner, regardless of the claims made to the contrary by the plethora of reviews littering the book's cover and inside pages (one quote goes so far as to describe the book as a collection of "essays," when it is in fact composed of short stories; so much for critical credibility). There isn't even the accuracy in social detail of Jean Shepherd.
The only parts that stand out are brief portraits of the writer's mother, a cynical, soft-hearted alcoholic, and Greek granny, an obstinate, opaque relic transplanted intact to these shores from the old country. Lacking irony and disinterest, the rest is mostly flat and two dimensional, without contour and shadowless, as if illuminated by a harsh, artificial, unforgiving light. Characters and situations are glibly and superficially sketched; language suffers from bland homogeneity (Sedaris has a unique ability to write sentences of the same length and cadence unfailingly adhering to nothing but colloquial English); very little is inferred, very little is given for afterthought, hardly anything lies beneath the surface.
As a footnote, I could not help but notice that, inadvertently or not, Sedaris fulfills the stereotype of a homosexual's family background, which consists of a strong, dominant, dependent mother and a weak, recessive, indifferent father, i.e., imbalanced gender role models. Has anyone else noticed this or been bothered that such basic pathology ("dysfunction") is unremarked upon by the author?
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I read Barrel Fever four years ago and that was one of the few books that kept me laughing out loud. Therefore my expectations of Naked were very high. In his shorter stories, especially "Plague of Ticks","Cyclops" and "The Drama Bug", Sedaris' hilarious voice and knack for extending a joke past its initial impact through to an inevitably outrageous conclusion very much keeps to the style successfully employed in Barrel Fever.
What surprised and delighted me about Naked were Sedaris' more serious and honestly introspective stories, such as "I Like Guys," "Planet of the Apes" and "C.O.G." There is no denying that Sedaris' humourous, barb-tinged writing is more airtight and solid than his serious stuff, but each of these stories proved in some way that he has something to say even when restrained and overtly searching for meaning. Particularly evocative was the penultimate story "Ashes," the last sentence of which expressed as much sublime tragedy as a million mock-psychology paperbacks could ever hope to communicate.
Ironically, the title story, "Naked," was by far the weakest, and I believe that it is because the story is too clearly an autobiographical sketch, and thus the details and experiences are too believable to be interesting. Sedaris is undoubtedly trying to show us how grotesque a snapshot of life can be without a satirical retouching, but the reason we read great humourists and absurdists is precisely for the retouching: life's grotesqueness has become too commonplace. We need writers like Sedaris to remind us of the implications.
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am 10. September 1997
Being new to David Sedaris I had no idea of his sexual orientation. But I LAUGHED. In fact, I am seldom aware of the orientation of any authors... be they old favorites or new discoveries. It is simply not an issue. All I know is I laughed... uncontrollably. That said, it was with a certain amount of delight that I came to realize Sedaris is gay. Not because this is the crux of his book but, quite the opposite, because it isn't. I was thrown into fits of laughter long before I had any idea that his perspective was, unavoidably, different from mine. Or so I thought. What is so refreshing about his book is the commonality found between people of different lifestyles... without being beaten about the head with it. Whether they be white or black, gay or straight, in possession of all faculties or handicapped, the characters in this book all share one common trait...they are flawed. And through these common flaws come the bust-out-loud, uncontrollable spasms that, hours later, inspire the same response as when they are first read. Sedaris' style is both critical and self-depricating. We are forced to laugh at him as we laugh at ourselves. We are able to see our own lives through his microscopic self-examination. And we laugh at the faults he finds within us all. This book is hilarious and warrants rereading, if only for its poignant insights and jewels of prose. It also functions well as a trap. Lend it to a friend who has difficulty "understanding" gays and, before they know what hit them, they will realize they are communing with the very person that, pages before, had been a complete mystery to them
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am 30. Oktober 1998
Let me be clear; I enjoy David Sedaris and I liked his book. However, "Naked" could and should be about 90 pages shorter than it is. I, like many others, found myself laughing out loud at the beginning of the book. I drove my wife insane with the number of times I said, "Ok, you have to hear this." But, like a comedian struggling on stage, Sedaris decided to push rather than leave well enough alone. Brilliant pieces like "A Plague of Tics" and "Next of Kin" are followed by weaker stories with forced punchlines. The crisp description and dialogue found early in the book give way to lead balloons like this one from "I Like Guys":
"...but I hoped that the warm Mediterranean waters might melt the icicle she seemed to have mistaken for a rectal thermometer."
"Naked" is certainly entertaining. In fact, Sedaris is likely to become a staple on high school speech circuits around the country. Beyond that, he'll need to become more consistent (a la Garrsion Keillor's "Lake Wobegon Days" or Woody Allen's "Without Feathers") to separate himself from the huge pack of so-so humorists to the leagues of those whose names define humor.
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am 29. April 2000
I would love to give this books five stars but I can't. There were three stories ("Chipped Beef," "Dinah, the Christmas Whore," and "The Drama Bug") that just didn't grab me, so I can't in good conscience give "Naked" a perfect rating. But it's a very strong a 4.7.
David Sedaris is one of the funniest authors I've ever read. His storytelling is superb and absolutely hilarious! This is a must-read for anyone out there who wants to temporarily escape their own dull lives and live vicariously through someone else. Underneath Sedaris's humorous adventures lies a sadness and fear, but that's what makes the stories so beautiful and genuine. Living with OCD, his mother's death, and realizing and accepting his homosexuality are amongst life's trying situations, to say the least. But Sedaris recounts those experiences with tenderness and dignity. I dreaded getting to the last page, and when I closed the book and put it back on the shelf it felt like I was losing a new friend. So...the solution to that was simple....I just pre-ordered his next book.
NOTE: If you loved "Naked" you'll love "Barrell Fever."
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am 27. August 1998
But man, I couldn't help it! Yes, it is horribly disturbing, but just when your breath catches and you wonder, "Where is he going with this?" he turns it, makes it humorous and ridiculous. Reminds me of the scene in Pulp Fiction where they hit a bump and John Travolta accidentally shoots the victim they kidnapped in the head . . . you hate to laugh but you find yourself doing it anyway. As hard as the essays were to digest at times, I appreciated him dealing with race and sexuality issues as he did; daring to say a lot of things that others never do, and making the reader deal with it. Sedaris is masterful at knowing exactly how far to stretch the line, before letting it bounce back the other direction. To those that wonder if all these stories are true, I believe they are. Anyone who REALLY pays attention to their lives, especially looking at it as a detached observer with an evil streak of humor . . . could find a novel of equal absurdity inside themselves. My life is as boring as they come and my parents were fairly normal, but they did know a seven foot hare krishna named "Big Ed". David-keep writing . . . few have your gifts.
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