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Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)

by David Sedaris

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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19,004327148 (4.05)407
Me Talk Pretty One Day contains far more than just the funniest collection of autobiographical essays - it quite well registers as a manifesto about language itself. Wherever there's a straight line, you can be sure that Sedaris lurks beneath the text, making it jagged with laughter; and just where the fault lines fall, he sits mischievously perched at the epicenter of it all. David Sedaris's new collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day, tells a most unconventional life story. It begins with a North Carolina childhood filled with speech-therapy classes ("There was the lisp, of course, but more troubling than that was my voice itself, with its excitable tone and high, girlish pitch") and unwanted guitar lessons taught by a midget. From budding performance artist ("The only crimp in my plan was that I seemed to have no talent whatsoever") to "clearly unqualified" writing teacher in Chicago, Sedaris's career leads him to New York (the sky's-the-limit field of furniture moving) and eventually, of all places, France. Sedaris's move to Paris poses a number of challenges, chief among them his inability to speak the language. Arriving a "spooky man-child" capable of communicating only through nouns, he undertakes language instruction that leads him ever deeper into cultural confusion. Whether describing the Easter bunny to puzzled classmates, savoring movies in translation (It is Necessary to save the Soldier Ryan), or watching a group of men play soccer with a cow, Sedaris brings a view and a voice like no other--"Original, acid, and wild," said the Los Angeles Times--to every unforgettable encounter."--Jacket.… (more)
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» See also 407 mentions

English (324)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (326)
Showing 1-5 of 324 (next | show all)
When you make your living writing books of essays, usually prominently featuring your childhood, you're definitely liable to accusations that your treatment of the truth is...flexible, which is something David Sedaris knows all too well. Me Talk Pretty Some Day is the first of his books I've ever read, and I have to admit, some of the pieces it contains do strike me as a little too good to be exactly, totally true. The book is separated into two parts: the first focusing on his early life, mostly his childhood with his family, and the second focusing on his adult life, mostly the portions in which he lived in France with his boyfriend. He didn't speak French before he spent time there, and his frustrating attempts to learn the language are a major through-line of the back half of the book.

As in any essay collection, there are hits and misses. For me, personally, there were many more of the former than the latter here. Humor in books is a tricky thing...even if I find something funny, the most it usually provokes is a smile. An out-and-out laugh is a rare thing, but Sedaris managed to get a few good chuckles out of me (including while I was reading it on an airplane, which made me seem A sane I'm sure). "A Shiner Like A Diamond" (about David's sister Amy freaking out their father by wearing the bottom half of a fat suit on a trip home) and "Make That A Double" (about Ugly Americans refusing to even try speaking French, and the weirdness of learning to speak a language with gendered nouns) were particular highlights for me, but most of the pieces were decent to good, in large part because they weren't ever boring.

And that's where we get into the truth-telling. These are funny stories, based in fact. But are they true? There's been more than one examination into the accuracy of the stories Sedaris tells, concluding that at least some of them are significantly embellished. So if they aren't really all that true, sometimes, does it really matter? For me, I guess the answer is that it depends. For these kinds of books (memoir-ish essays, usually humorous or meant to be), I'm generally proceeding under the idea that there might be some minor tweaks, usually to fill in dialogue or some of the finer details. But it seems like some of these stories in this book (particularly the one about the guitar teacher) are more than just slightly spruced up. And that's a little more bothersome. Part of the reason some of these stories are so funny isn't just because they recount humorous situations, but because those situations are supposed to have been real. If they're not actually real...I feel like there should be some sort of acknowledgement that these stories are based in fact but might have been dazzled up to tell a better story, maybe?

That probably sounds more negative than I intend it. At the end of the day, even after I read about the likelihood that some of these stories weren't exactly real life, I did enjoy reading the book. And for me, that's what counts. I enjoyed it enough, honestly, that I'm likely to continue reading other David Sedaris books, because I like his writing. My husband tells me that this is his best collection, so I'm curious to read more and see if I agree with him. I'd recommend Me Talk Pretty One Day to anyone looking for a mood-lifter (especially if you, too, have suffered through the indignity of learning a foreign language). ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
Anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language will find this hysterical. Sedaris tells stories about speech therapy as a child, trying to speak French as an adult, and many other amusing things. ( )
  DrApple | Apr 7, 2020 |
Amusing stories from the author's life. A quick and easy read. ( )
  obtusata | Jan 9, 2020 |
One of the funner reads of the year for me. ( )
  shum57 | Jul 22, 2019 |
This is one of those books that I intended to read years ago because of its catchy title and its initial buzz, but then I forgot about it for a couple decades until I started regularly passing by its shelf at the library earlier this year. What the heck, I thought, it's never too late to try.

It got off to a good start with his speech therapy travails and weird family life as a child. The first half of the book was fairly humorous and engaging, but then in the back end the book nosedived as Sedaris moved to France and totally lost me as he spent a chapter recounting some goofy daydream fantasies.

Now I'm wondering if I was conflating this book with Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors. I wonder where that's shelved? ( )
  villemezbrown | Jul 4, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 324 (next | show all)
Whereas ''Naked'' reads like a series of overlapping autobiographical essays, this volume feels more like a collection of magazine pieces or columns on pressing matters like the care and feeding of family pets and the travails of dining in Manhattan. But if Mr. Sedaris sometimes sounds as though he were making do with leftover material, ''Talk Pretty'' still makes for diverting reading.
 
The gifted Sedaris has not been hard enough on himself. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I suspect there is a better writer in there than he is as yet willing to let out.
 
This collection is, in its way, damned by its own ambitious embrace of variety; with so many pieces assembled, the stronger ones always punish the weaker... But reading or listening to David Sedaris is well worth the lulls for the thrills.
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sedaris, DavidAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aison, Cathryn S.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colombo, MatteoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayden, MelissaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaye, Michael IanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pardoen, IrvingTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A recent transplant to Paris, humorist David Sedaris, bestselling author of "Naked", presents a collection of his strongest work yet, including the title story about his hilarious attempt to learn French.
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