In my daring attempts to veil my humor, I can’t help sometimes but recall that humor writing is probably the precursor to my writing career. Once I started writing papers—like actual essays—in junior high and high school, my father sat with me, tossing out random quips of funny similes to compare the checks and balances of American government to, or how the educational system was like making children run on a never ending hamster wheel (perhaps my father was projecting one too many feelings of his own into my papers).
After spending the past couple semesters reading David Sedaris, it made sense to finally read his most recent book, “Calypso” (2018). Sedaris was once introduced to me in a fiction class, and then a nonfiction class. Since then, I was instantly submerged in Sedaris’ saga of goofy family life, his (very) particular neediness, and stories of the mundane made bizarre. I’ve read (almost) all his work in a relatively short time, and while cramped in a tiny rental car on my way to a writing conference, I decided to plow through “Calypso.”
Before diving into “Calypso” I knew I was going to have to definitively rank Sedaris’ bibliography at some point. “Calypso,” in its montage of quirky essays, is also possibly his most emotional collection after “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” (2004). Written partly in elegy to Sedaris’ younger sister, who had recently committed suicide, “Calypso” is a collection of remembrance. The second essay, “Now We Are Five,” is an emotional skirmish for Sedaris, grappling with not knowing what to do after her death.
Yet it wouldn’t be a David Sedaris book without its stories of the blatantly weird, especially his signature travel stories. After “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls” (2013), which I consider as Sedaris’ least compelling collection, “Calypso” feels refreshing. However, in spite of Sedaris’ attempts to centralize his theme to their vacation home in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, the narratives also feel like some of his most jumbled and incongruous.
To counter myself, though, I want to clarify that the story Sedaris recounts of getting a harmless fatty tumor removed from his cheek by a “doctor” after one of his readings and then trying to feed said tumor to a turtle was a great respite from all of the other spastic travel stories he included. Although this ties in to my ulterior purpose of reading David Sedaris so frequently—as light leisure reading—at points I found portions of essays almost too lackadaisical.
Perhaps that’s where he’s at now with his work, but I found myself careening through “Calypso” so quick that I wondered if I was reading just to get it over with. Though I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself, I should affirm that I knew about halfway through the book it wouldn’t beat my top three Sedaris books. “Calypso” is at a very middling place in his bibliography, which seems to connect with Sedaris’ theme of growing older, beyond middle age.
I wouldn’t recommend any new Sedaris fan to start with “Calypso” much like I wouldn’t suggest they begin with “Theft by Finding” (2017). I want to love “Calypso”—I really do—but I can’t get over simply just liking it. I fear that, regardless of my efforts of re-reading books as I, too, grow older, “Calypso” will remain firmly placed as the most middle ground David Sedaris book.