by David Sedaris
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When I worked as a bookseller, the thing I dreaded hearing more than anything was, “I want to read something funny.” In my experience, you could fill a canyon with books that are sad or poignant, or full of mystery or romance. But trying to find a book that will make someone actually laugh is tremendously difficult. Luckily, every three or four years, David Sedaris comes out with another uproarious essay collection to help in that department.
Sedaris is the king of translating his observations and experiences into witty pieces that can also be tremendously moving. He addresses serious subjects effortlessly, never more so than in Calypso, which primarily tackles the subject of aging, a topic Sedaris works into astute observations on his need for—and fear of—a physical, his siblings’ health issues, or his father (who takes a spin class at the age of 91!). Whether it’s a story about shopping in Japan, his beach house, his family, his Fitbit obsession, his sister’s death, or astrology, he always turns his wit to the task of dissecting the nuances of being human, which, I think, takes far more talent than being just raunchy or shocking.
Sedaris is smart and clever, but also delightfully shameless (he is a master at the humble brag), occasionally naughty (the brainstorming session about what to name the beach house is A+ material), and a little strange, too. Instead of quoting something funny from the book, I will just say I started laughing out loud on page two, and I continued to laugh through the whole book (as well as tear up a time or two).
If you've ever laughed your way through David Sedaris's cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you're getting with Calypso. You'd be wrong. When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: It's impossible to take a vacation from yourself.
With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: These stories are very, very funny—it's a book that can make you laugh till you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris's writing has never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.
This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris's darkest and warmest book yet—and it just might be his very best.