David Sedaris's new essay collection: big sales, mixed reviews

David Sedaris's new essay collection, 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls,' is his first work focusing on his own life since 'When You Are Engulfed in Flames' in 2008.

By , Staff Writer

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    David Sedaris's newest essay collection, 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls,' was released April 23.
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Essay-writing superstar David Sedaris has released a new collection titled “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” and it’s topping bestseller lists despite receiving mixed reviews.

“Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” was released last month on April 23 and currently holds the number one spot on both the combined print and e-book nonfiction and the print nonfiction New York Times bestseller list for the week of May 12. It’s also at number one on the Hardcover Nonfiction list for IndieBound’s April 29 list. The book is Sedaris’s newest work since “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk,” a collection of humorous stories about animals that came out in 2010. His last collection of personal essays, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” came out in 2008.

Critical reception of the new collection has been uneven. Monitor critic Lisa Weidenfeld said much of Sedaris’s work is still hilarious.

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“Sedaris remains as quick-witted as ever,” she wrote. “Even in an essay in which he’s going after the low-hanging fruit of a basic language seminar, he’s still going to force you to interrupt whatever your friends and loved ones are doing to explain to them why you’re sitting there giggling.”

However, Weidenfeld noted that some of Sedaris’s topics make it seem like the writer is losing perspective a bit, as in an essay where he is shocked by how much the English litter and starts picking up trash from the ground. 

“The concept of the world-famous author walking around with grimy fingernails and picking up empty McDonald’s bags is comical on its own,” she wrote. “But even within that context, it’s still an essay about a wealthy man with the time to go hike around the countryside all day.”

Los Angeles Times writer Heather Havrilesky, on the other hand, enjoyed the book wholeheartedly.

"How do you describe having your laptop stolen in Hawaii or purchasing property in West Sussex and evoke the same relatable pathos and longing that you conjured as a confused gay kid growing up middle class in North Carolina?" she wrote. "But Sedaris pulls it off, not only by throwing in plenty of fresh stories about his youth but also by adhering closely to the emotional heart of each tale.... David Sedaris really is that good. And, based on this latest collection, he's getting only better."

NPR critic Heller McAlpin enjoyed all of Sedaris’s essays but found imagined monologues, in which Sedaris tells the imaginary stories of characters like a man who opposes gay marriage, less charming.

“Sedaris' targets, with their exaggerated stupidity, seem too obvious,” McAlpin wrote. “Also, much of the charm of Sedaris' writing lies precisely in his own voice and inflections, which he sublimates in these pieces.”

Guardian critic David Shariatmadari agreed, writing that he enjoyed all the essays but found the fiction pieces “unnecessarily vicious.”

“They drip with contempt for the kind of teapartying middle American who loves guns and hates gay marriage,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly writer Thom Geier wondered if, after so many essay collections, “[Sedaris’s] well of humiliation may be, if not dry, then verging on merely moist.”

“There's a lot more filler here,” Geier wrote.

However, Geier noted that many of the essays are still worth exploring and, unlike some others, he enjoyed Sedaris’s fiction pieces. 

“There are still plenty of well-cut gems… some of his best new work is outright fiction,” he wrote.

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