How’s your summer reading coming along? Are you logging those books? At my library, we encourage adults to join our summer reading club and set a goal to read five books during the summer months. According to my calculations, I should be reading 1.67 books per month between June and August, so I’m a little behind, but Calypso by David Sedaris is my second and that’s at least an accomplishment, right?
I’ve been reading David Sedaris for almost two decades now, pretty much half my life, and I’m always giddy when I see a new title published. It’s a bit like having a long-overdue conversation with a friend you didn’t know you missed. There have been a few of his books I haven’t quite loved (or even liked, to be honest - Barrel Fever, I’m looking at you), but for me, his humorous observations on life, family, strangers, and just the human experience hold true and make me laugh out loud - literal LOLs. But on occasion, they have also made me cry.
David Sedaris, brother to funny lady Amy Sedaris, grew up in North Carolina before heading off across the country, and eventually across the world, to expand his horizons, all the while writing down daily thoughts and interactions (you can read 1977-2002 so far). As many places as he’s been or lived (Chicago, New York, France, and now England), he never leaves his family for long. I’ve often said if I could join a famous family, I’d want to be a Sedaris. With six children and a strong matriarch and cantankerous patriarch, there appeared to be no shortage of sibling gossip sessions, smokey laughs, fiery fights, bittersweet memories, or wild adventures among the family members. And recalling all this is what David Sedaris does best.
In this latest collection of essays, the suicide of his younger sister, Tiffany, is the string sewing the familial recollections together. Not all of the essays, but a good majority, focus on the remaining Sedaris clan coming together over the years between 2013 and the present to quietly grieve their sister and recall their childhood. They convene several times a year at the Sea Section, the beachfront property in North Carolina David bought on a whim to recapture the memories of his youth when the family would take summer vacations on Emerald Isle.
In addition to trying to make sense of Tiffany’s death, the siblings -- Lisa, David, Gretchen, Amy, and Paul -- as well as their aging father Lou, bicker about the current political climate, play menacing rounds of Sorry, and feed tumors to turtles. Um, what? There are so many quietly heartfelt realizations about family dynamics in this book, but there are also a few hilariously horrible situations sprinkled in there for good measure and feeding a tumor to a turtle is one of them. There’s also gastrointestinal distress while on a book tour. Do with that what you will.
Calypso was an immediate favorite for me. Deeply personal and moving, exploring changing family relationships as he ages himself, this book is the epitome of why I enjoy David Sedaris’ writing so much. And did I mention that I listened to the audiobook? That’s key for me with David Sedaris - there’s nothing like hearing the writer’s stories in his own distinct voice. Especially when he’s describing shopping for street fashion in Tokyo with his sister Amy. The only thing better is going to a live reading - I’ve done this several times and met him once and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re a fan.