Forethoughts: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (Abacus) My first experience reading David Sedaris came about six years ago when I picked up Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim. It was second-hand copy, and I remember when I bought it in a charity shop in Perth (Scotland). It’s the one that has a cover showing a naked Barbie doll in close-up, from her shoulders down to the top of her thighs. It shows the doll in all of its featureless naked glory, but it still made the silver haired lady in the charity shop go quiet when she got to it in the pile of other books I was buying, after she commented on every other books that came before it. While she was wondering what on God’s earth I was buying I was chuckling to myself, but in reality, having never read Sedaris up to this point, I didn’t really have a clue what I was buying either.

It turned out that rather than some seedy under-the-counter offering of Barbie porn, I’d picked up a collection that was as honest and as homely (in some senses) as it was humourous. I was rather taken by it. Sedaris’ wit is wry and wicked, as fans of his know fine well. It was right up my street and I remember making a mental note at the time to return to reading more of Sedaris’ work in the future.

Alas, after reading this 2005 collection in 2007, Mr. Sedaris kind of slipped off my radar again and it took me until last year to get back to him. I did so when he was featured in an October 2013 issue of The New Yorker, with an essay that’s as personal and much about family as it’s likely to get. However, most of the humour in this essay is replaced with heartbreak, as Sedaris talks about the suicide of his sister, and the affect it had on both himself and the other members of his large family. Oddly, the humour is still present in this essay, together with a hint of uplift, but the mood of melancholy is omnipresent (you can read this essay titled Now We Are Five on the New Yorker website, and catch up with my own afterthoughts on it, HERE).

Powerful stuff indeed, and reading Now We Are Five put David Sedaris well and truly back on my radar. It was fortunate then that earlier in 2013 a new round up of essays was published by Abacus, under the brilliantly titled Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. The cover blurb reads as follows:

From the unique perspective of David Sedaris comes a new book of essays taking his readers on a bizarre and stimulating world tour. From the perils of French dentistry to the eating habits of the Australian kookaburra, from the squat-style toilets of Beijing to the particular wilderness of a North Carolina Costco, we learn about the absurdity and delight of a curious traveler’s experiences. Whether railing against the habits of litterers in the English countryside or marvelling over a disembodied human arm in a taxidermist’s shop, Sedaris takes us on side-splitting adventures that are not to be forgotten.

Yep, although the slant of the blurb would suggest more of a move into travel writing, I recognise the eclectic and wide-ranging nature of Sedaris’ topics. And if there’s one thing that you know you’re getting with a David Sedaris collection, it’s not knowing what you’re getting :).

Sedaris with Owls Of course, given the gap in my David Sedaris reading I should really be settling on an earlier collection, but I’m keen to find out just how much his essay writing has matured since 2005. I know I’ve had a taste of his more recent work from the October 2013 New Yorker-published essay I mentioned, but liking what I read in that probably more than his earlier stuff, I want to continue exploring Sedaris’ more up to date stuff. And what better way to do that than to journey through his latest collection?

Let’s go then, and as is always the case when I set off on my travels through a collection or anthology I list the contents below. As I progress and post individual afterthoughts on each essay I will return to these forethoughts and hyperlink to them. At the end I will summarise everything in a final post, while offering my afterthoughts on the collection as a whole. Meantime, if you have anything to say about David Sedaris, and especially his latest collection then I’d love to hear from you. For those unfamiliar with his work, I’ve provided a few links below the contents listing so that you can become a little better acquainted with the man. You’re welcome :). See you on the other side.


:: Contents of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls ::
(links lead to individual reviews of each essay, when posted)

  • Dentists Without Borders
  • Attaboy
  • Think Differenter
  • Memory Laps
  • A Friend in the Ghetto
  • Loggerheads
  • If I Ruled the World
  • Easy, Tiger
  • Laugh Kookaburra
  • Standing Still
  • Just a Quick E-mail
  • A Guy Walks into a Bar Car
  • Author, Author
  • Obama!!!!!
  • Standing By
  • I Break for Traditional Marriage
  • Understanding Understanding Owls
  • #2 to Go
  • Health-Care Freedoms and Why I Want My Country Back
  • Now Hiring Friendly People
  • Rubbish
  • Day In, Day Out
  • Mind the Gap
  • A Cold Case
  • The Happy Place
  • Dog Days

Abacus Books | 23 April 2013 | £12.99 | PAPERBACK | 288 PP | ISBN: 034912163X

Find out more about David Sedaris:

A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.

Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Sedaris is an excellent, wonderfully entertaining writer, and he’s also someone who really knows his short fiction. He hosted a few episodes of the “Selected Shorts” podcast during 2013, and I remember really enjoying his commentary and story selections. And it seems that whenever I’m looking at reviews or blurbs for some lesser-known short fiction author that I love (Jean Thompson being a recent example), there’s usually something from Sedaris with earnest and insightful praise.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Thank you for your comments, Karl. Always appreciated. Any idea how a short fiction fan as passionate as me completely missed these ‘Selected Shorts’ podcasts? 🙂 I had no idea Sedaris was such a guru of the short form. I’m off to investigate.
      Happy New Year!

      • Happy New Year to you, Rob!

        “Selected Shorts” is a very nice podcast. I think I like “The New Yorker: Fiction” podcast even more, though it’s less frequent. In that one, authors who have appeared in the New Yorker read and discuss a story by some other NY-er author. David Sedaris reading Miranda July’s “Roy Spifey” for example. And Lorrie Moore reading Julie Hayden’s “Day-Old Baby Rats” was absolutely To Die For. If I weren’t already in love with Moore for her stories, I would be for her reading voice.

        • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

          Yes, I’m well aware of the New Yorker:Fiction podcast, although to be honest I don’t listen to it, or any others for that matter, at any great length. I just don’t seem to gel with the form all that well, and I don’t know why.

          As for Lorrie Moore, she’s one of the few short story writers that I haven’t gelled with either (are you shocked? Shall I pass the smelling salts? :)). I started a reading project a while back exploring who, between Moore and William Trevor, was the most Chekovian in their short story writing. In the end I had to give up because Moore just didn’t do it for me. I found her overbearingly morbid and depressing most of the time. I’m interested in listening to her reading voice though, mainly because of what you’ve said about her :).

          • Yeah, I need some smelling salts here. 🙂 Myself, I find Lorrie Moore about the furthest thing from morbid and depressing. Some (most?) of her stories may be unhappy, but her characters are always fighting back against life’s unhappinesses with humor and a wickedly sharp wit. For me, this makes her stories full of life and hope.

            But tastes and reading experiences differ. Just for an example, I don’t care much at all for Alice Munro; if it were up to me, that Nobel prize would have gone to Moore.

          • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

            Karl, I think it’s me who needs the smelling salts now :). How could you not get on with Alice Munro? She’s definitely worthy of recognition.

          • Well, like I said, reading experiences and tastes differ, Rob. I agree that Munro is skillful, but her stories usually do nothing for me emotionally. I wrote a little essay about this in the form of a 2-star review of her collection Selected Stories. Look for the #3-rated review of that book on Amazon (US) if you’re interested.

          • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

            Indeed. Think how boring our world would be if we all liked the same thing. Will look out your review…