Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

I am an unabashed David Sedaris fan. He knows what he’s good at and does it well, and although he’s often criticized within the literary community for passing off what is clearly humor writing as nonfiction/memoir (which I agree with), I think that he’s one of the funniest writers out there, and I never fail to be amused by him. I’ve read most of his books and many of the essays he’s published in magazines like The New Yorker, and I find that he really excels at balancing poignancy and hilarity– there’s always a heart and a sense of reality in all that he writes.

If you’ve read anything else by Sedaris, you’ll know what to expect with this collection–a series of essays on current events, his childhood, his travels abroad, and his crazy family, all infused with his signature deprecating, deadpan humor. He mostly delivers, and this collection is reliably entertaining, although I felt like it didn’t quite live up to the non-stop hilarity of some of his previous collections. Contributing to this might have been the fact that, as this collection was published five years after his last book, it seemed like a lot of the pieces had appeared elsewhere before being included, so I felt like I’d read most of them (and they happened to be some of the best ones). I also wasn’t a fan of the short stories interspersed throughout, which I didn’t think were that interesting or funny, and seemed really out of place.

Collections like Me Talk Pretty One Day had me crying of laughter from start to finish, and this one seemed a bit more cynical and snarky, and slightly less funny. It was still good, don’t get me wrong, and if you’re a Sedaris fan it’s absolutely worth picking up, as some of the essays are true gems. I loved “Understanding Understanding Owls” and “Loggerheads,” among many others. But it’s definitely not the place to start in his body of work.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

I’m honestly shocked that I never read Flowers in the Attic when I was younger. I illicitly read smutty books like it was my job back then, mostly because I was reading far above my age level from very early on and I had a house overflowing with grown-up books just waiting to be perused. I have vivid memories of dog-earing the pages of my mother’s copy of The Mists of Avalon to mark the sexy parts, for example (I’ve still never read the whole book), and was fascinated by the sex scenes I came across in unexpected places. There’s definitely a thrill to sneakily reading “bad” books–it’s exciting and terrifying, the prospect of being caught absolutely mortifying. My cousin and I, when we were twelve, bought a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever… and spent weeks obsessively re-reading it until we were so afraid of one of our mothers finding it that we put it in the library’s return chute and ran away. Needless to say, Flowers in the Attic would have been my jam back then. 

As a twenty-four year old, though? Not so much. I finally got around to reading it in preparation for the Lifetime movie adaptation, just so I’d be up on what all the hype was all about, and because I have a weird thing about having to read the book before I see the movie. I obviously wasn’t expecting highbrow literature–my expectations were really low, in fact–but I was still pretty disappointed.

If you don’t know the basic premise of the novel, here’s a quick summary: It’s the late 1950’s, and Cathy Dollanganger has the perfect life–that is, until her father dies unexpectedly in a car crash, leaving the family penniless. Her flighty mother decides to move the family to live with her estranged parents, promising a life of riches and fun, but when they arrive, the children (Cathy, her older brother Christopher, and the four-year-old twins) learn that they will be living in the attic, and no one, apart from their evil grandmother, will know that they even exist. Cathy and Chris become de facto parents to their young siblings as time passes, trying to figure out how to survive…and deal with their blooming hormones and changing bodies (hint, hint). 

This is definitely not intended to be anything other than trashy fun, but it was so poorly written that I couldn’t even enjoy it as that. V.C. Andrews spends so much time describing random and irrelevant things, which really slows down the pace and makes it a chore to read. The scandalous, campy parts are still sort of fun, in their own way, but I found them to be greatly exaggerated and, again, didn’t think that the dozens of pointless, boring passages in between those good parts were worth enduring to get to them. The dialogue is stilted and often anachronistic, the characters are annoying, and it was all just sort of a slog to read. I want my campy trash to be fun to read–if I’m going to spend that valuable reading time on something fluffy and frivolous, it at least needs to be enjoyable. This definitely wasn’t. 

Again, if I’d read it as a kid, I’d have loved it. But as an adult with more discerning tastes, and with so many other books out there to read, this one is just not worth the time. Read the Wikipedia page to get a sense of what it’s about, if you’re curious, but there’s no point in reading it.