Book Review: “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” by David Sedaris

A few weeks ago, I was in one of my reading moods and stopped by our local bookstore to browse the current selection. I picked up a couple of books, including Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (and just for $1.50!). I am a Sedaris fan and have read some of his other books, including Me Talk Pretty One Day and a collection of diary excerpts, Theft by Finding. His books – which include personal essays and short stories – are a murky mix of non-fiction and fiction, and reading them, you spend half the time scratching your head wondering what section of the bookstore you wandered into when you found it.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is a compilation of typical Sedaris stories. It contains various essays which reflect on both the author’s childhood and early adult years, along with a few tales that detail random episodes from his current life. These personal essays are interspersed with short fiction pieces that lean towards the satirical and absurd. The combination of topics and genres is jarring in a positive way – I was never quite sure whether I was reading an excerpt from a memoir or a completely fabricated story.

This book was entertaining, and I read it nearly straight through in just a few hours. Sedaris writes informally but despite all of his casualness and nonchalance, there is a surprising amount of social commentary underneath the humor. His personal stories have a way of greatly exaggerating the truth without trying to hide the fact that he is being outlandish. Even though you know you are reading about an event he has blown wildly out of proportion, you somehow come away with a greater sense of the truth than if he had stuck to traditional memoir. His exaggerated style manages to capture the annoyances, the embarrassments, the moments of glee better than any formal re-telling.

Perhaps my favorite story in the collection was “Memory Laps.” In this piece, Sedaris recalls a summer from his youth when he joined a swim team. It was during this time that he developed an intense jealousy towards a peer that his father made the mistake of complimenting. Sedaris presents this memory of a kid’s desire to win the approval of his father as an over-the-top and over-stretched version of the truth, yet still I came away gaining a true sense of his younger self’s insecurities and need for validation.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone needing a laugh, wanting to pass a dull summer day or even simply wishing to know that there is another person out there in the world that feels just as petty about certain nuisances as they do.

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