by Marcie Waters, Arts Columnist
“Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is the latest book from David Sedaris. This book, like many of his others, is a collection of humorous essays based on the author’s personal life. These essays cover a variety of topics, including trips to see his French dentist, picking up litter in the English country side, and attempting to purchase the perfect Valentine’s day gift for his partner. While Sedaris often writes on mundane topics, he is able to inject enough witty commentary into the description that they turn into hilarious escapades of an uncanny daily life.
An example of this is his essay, “Understanding Owls”. Sedaris describes his artistic partner, Hugh, and his accumulation of owl-themed knick-knacks that have been given to him since he first painted a owl-themed mural for a client. Wanting to buy him the greatest owl knick-knack of all, Sedaris seeks out a taxidermy owl. Upon discovering that it is illegal to stuff owls in the United States, however, Sedaris is forced to give up his search. Years later, the couple moves to England, and Sedaris remembers his mission to find a stuffed owl. This is how he finds himself in the presence of a peculiar taxidermist in a deserted East London shop. After showing Sedaris the two stuffed tawny owls he has in his collection, it is clear that the taxidermist has something he would rather show Sedaris. He surprises Sedaris by presenting him with the strangest artifact in his collection: a tattooed, mummified human arm, which he pulls out of a plastic grocery bag. The taxidermist explains the origin of the arm and lets a fascinated Sedaris touch it. Unhinged, Sedaris quickly purchases a stuffed owl and leaves. Sedaris describes how he spent the journey home paranoid, thinking about how the taxidermist could have understood him so well, “he looked into my soul and recognized me for the person I really am: the type who’d actually love a Pygmy … worse still, I would flaunt it, hoping, in the way a Porsche owner does, that this would become a part of my identity.” In this and many of his essays, Sedaris uses offbeat humor to create hilarious anecdotes out of strange situations.
“Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is different from some of Sedaris’ other memoirs in that he includes a few short fictional stories. In an introduction to the book, According to Sedaris, these stories were written with high school forensics teams in mind, as they are perfect for recitation at a competition. The short stories center on subjects such as grassroots campaigning and familial relationships. While these stories are entertaining, they are also the weakest point of the book. Amidst the chapters on Sedaris’ life, they fall a little flat—a story about a fictional person is not quite as compelling as Sedaris’ real-life conundrums. Excepting these stories, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is a quick and humorous read.