If you?ve ever read any of David Sedaris?s biting, laugh-out-loud wit, you?ve missed the biggest treat in the world: hearing him read his work aloud. The runaway success of his last books, Me Talk Pretty One Day and The Santaland Diaries, has put this regular contributor to my favorite radio show (This American Life) on the radar of the average reader, but many people remain woefully unaware how much funnier he is in his own voice. Sedaris writes mainly on his own quirks and those of his equally neurotic family, self-effacing satire about growing up weird in suburban America and staying that way as a traveling gay writer. Although Dress Your Family delivers more of the same, it is a somewhat lesser offering than previous works, perhaps because, as one reviewer noted, the more success you have as a writer, the less chance and time you have to anonymously gather material. Sedaris tries to split the book for his new readers and old devotees: about a third of the book, the funniest, most accessible material, is essays Sedaris lovers will have heard from other sources, like the gut busting take on Dutch Christmas, Six to Eight Black Men, while another third of new material on his family seems a bit slower and more in depth than usual, fascinating for fans, but not as great for new readers.
Excellent narration of a compelling book. The author has balanced well the history, science, aesthetic, adventure, and intrigue of the diamond world over the last hundred years or so (with occasional detours farther back). I would have appreciated a little more information on some of the environmental pitfalls of diamond mining, but overall the exploration is quite fascinating.
The book would have been much more interesting to read in print. Many of cases and conclusions are fascinating in themselves, but the material is hindered by the format. The narrator is definitely an economist, not a voice actor. His narration presents the material dispassionately and rhythmically: wonderful for science, bad for story-telling. There were also multiple parts of the book that were difficult to follow aurally. Comprehension would be better visually. The chapter on the migration and social effects of names, featuring long lists of names for various social groups over multiple decades, was particularly excruciating. On the plus side, the studies on abortion and crime, and nature vs. nurture for raising children were extremely interesting. A few repetitions of certain material, due to many (or all?) of these essays being published before, were forgivable. I would skip it here, and get it in print if I were to do it over.
This might have been a three-star book, but only a two-star audio book. The auspiciously named Almond writes of his own consuming obsession with candy and the candy industry aiming for a David Sedaris-type admirable neurotic selfishness and wry humor, but missing the target for several reasons. The audio itself is partly to blame. The author, attempting to read his own material with--what? passion? interest?--speaks in overly excited tones that eventually become tiring for the ear. Despite that flaw, the first half, mainly the childhood recollections and pychological speculations of the author, comes closest to the correct tone, elicting laughter or longing at its best moments, such as the hilarious chapter on the worst candies, Mistakes Were Made, or the genuinely mournful elegy for the discontinued Caravel. Unfortunately, the book is more informational than the publisher bills it, and the second half of the book is made up mainly of essays on individual small manufacturers. The author struggles to paint indivudual portraits of people in fairly similar circumstances, namely trying to survive with a vanishing market for their nostalgia and regional items. While I was initially intrigued by the inside accounts and brief history of the American candy industry, audio essays must be written to give very distinctive images and feelings to the listener in order to stay distinct. As Almond tours factory after factory meeting plucky underdog after plucky underdog, the characters and atmosphere begin to melt together like so much warm marshmallow. I suspect it would work better in print, but in audio it becomes too easy to tune out yet another description of chocolate-enrobed nuts and salt-of-the-earth CEOs. Truly unbearable, however, are the author's occasional maudlin attempts to tie the deficiencies of his childhood and adult life to his obsession with the ultimate comfort food, which he employs in a particularly criminal manner to wrap up the book.
I was bored to tears for most of this extremely long book, waiting for Mr. Bourdin to finish telling us about the machismo trip that sets the tone of all his kitchens and start telling us about food and cooking. The author labors under the common delusion that being opinionated and frank makes you interesting. He took multiple chapters to rehash how profanity, crudity, and a thick skin are essential for being a real cook in a real kitchen, when one or two at MOST would have sufficed. Imagine someone taking an entire book to tell you what cadets at boot camp REALLY act like. I desperately wanted more chapters like the ones at the end of the book, describing his trips to the beautifully orchestrated kitchen of a friend (no shock value needed) and a trip to Japan: stories about loving food and the subtlties of cooking, managment, and culture.
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