Summer Reads: ‘Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls’ by David Sedaris


It probably looked strange to the other folks lined up to meet David Sedaris that I was holding a glossy photo of Billie Holiday. I was happy about it because David Sedaris singing in the style of Billie Holiday is the funniest thing in the world. But that world got cloudy and sad when someone who looked important and official approached me to say, “Oh, he won’t sign that, it’s not his work.” I folded the picture in half and put it in the back of the paperback I brought for him to sign. I was waiting in line to meet him for the first time, even though I’ve been reading Sedaris’ books since I saw Naked on my mom’s bookshelf and she told me I was too young to read it. He’s also been on This American Life more than any other contributor I can think of. His newest book is called Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls and it’s… well… a hoot.

For my half of our birthday, my twin sister gave me tickets to see David Sedaris on his reading tour, and I was nervous about meeting him, even though there’s nothing too complicated about handing someone a book and saying “thank you for writing.” I handed him my book and kind of stared at him while he drew an owl on the title page of my, well his, paperback. What do you say when the only thing you wanted to talk about is folded in the back of your book because someone wearing a blazer said it was a bad idea? Then he said “You know, I like your glasses. On most people they would scream ‘I went to architecture school’ but yours don’t at all.” This when I started gushing. “OMG! I went to architecture school! and worked as one for a while! but now I’m doing something different! I’ve read your books ever since my mom tried to stop me!” I went on and on telling him about everything from space suits to how I wanted to go to medical school. He was very polite about it all, but I think the blood started draining from his face as soon as I started gushing words.

Eventually, I was prodded along, but when he picked up my book to hand it back to me, the folded photo of Billie Holiday fell out. “What’s this?” he asked, opening it. I started gushing again, only with all the words mixed up like a Dada poem. “Oh, they said you wouldn’t– Funny sing sign– Billie hot dog.” but he just wrote “not me” on the photo and signed it. I was ecstatic as I walked into the auditorium to sit down before his reading, clutching the signed photo and hating myself for ever folding it, or folding to the pressure of men in blazers. During the reading, he read a few stories from his newest book (which awaited publication at the time) and answered several questions from the audience. Maybe I should have asked him to sing?

When I sat down to read the book, a collection of short stories, essays and even some poems, several of the pieces sounded familiar, either from his book tour or his published work in the New Yorker. Still, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is an excellent book to read, especially in the summer because it will make you laugh, toning your abs before you head to the beach. Maybe. But there’s plenty of seriousness lurking underneath all of the splashy jokes. It’s easy to laugh at passages like, “At first their voices might strike you as jolly: the warm tones of strangers becoming friends. Then the drinkers would get sloppy and repetitive, settling, finally, on that cross-eyed mush that passes for alcoholic sincerity.” And it’s true, but the story doesn’t stop there, it extends to his relationship with his father and even to race relations at the Raleigh Country Club in the late 60’s. It’s a bit all over the place, but it encompasses so many unexpected places that turn out to be necessary to tell these compelling and hilarious stories.

June 25, 2013 / By