For several years now, I’ve refused to buy hardcover books. I don’t like the added expense, of course, but mostly, I just don’t like the extra bulk and really don’t like how they feel in my hand: too much like textbooks or hymnals. I don’t need to be reminded of either when I’m trying to read something fun. As a result, I’m consistently a year or two behind everyone else with my reading, a (discount) price I’m willing to pay.
David Sedaris has long been one of the rare exceptions to this rule, and with his new book Calypso being released in May, I figured I’d bite the bullet again. Small problem, though: my embargo on buying and reading books by men, implemented after I discovered my CBR reading list and personal library were heavily skewed towards male authors. I’d intended to follow through at least to the end of the year. Sedaris would have to wait.
And then I found his newly released book in paperback in Schiphol airport on a layover coming home from Sweden, and I hesitated briefly before rationalizing my way to the cash register. Bought and tucked away, I planned to save it for the proverbial rainy day.
After the long slog through Pachinko, I just wanted something quick and breezy, and Sedaris will always fill that need hole for me, so I plucked it off the shelf far sooner than I anticipated. On the surface, Calypso seems no different from his other books, filled with stories and anecdotes about his family, his partner Hugh, and his adventures with travel and living abroad. I finished this book three weeks ago but still find myself giggling when I think about young David forced to help clean out the mess left behind after he started flushing the empty toilet paper rolls, or when I think about the punny but still clever name for their recently-acquired family beach house that mentions at every opportunity, or when I think about him wearing in public some of the bonkers clothes he bought in Tokyo with his sister Amy.
There’s a new twist, though, a melancholic air that comes with reaching and then edging past middle age. He discusses some of the perks, such as having a guest room and buying a vacation home, but mostly, he talks about losses, some big and immediately life-altering, others small but cumulative.
The biggest loss was his youngest sister, Tiffany, who died of suicide in 2013. That subject has been on my mind lately, as it has with many of us, following the losses of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, in addition to a higher-than-usual concentration of the subject in my reading materials. I didn’t know about Tiffany, so it came as a bit of a shock. It’s a subject that comes up repeatedly through the book both in dealing with the loss as well as with the complicated emotions around losing someone close with whom he had such a fractured relationship.
This theme of loss runs throughout. Sedaris writes quite a lot about his mother, her profound influence on his own storytelling, and how much he still misses her more than 20 years after her death. He includes several bits about his aging father and how much more each family gathering is weighted with importance, knowing that they will become fewer and fewer. He talks about a new obsession with his FitBit, obviously a nod to his obsessive/compulsive nature but undoubtedly also a bid to stave off his own impending old age.
I’m glad I made this exception for Sedaris. I’ve loved all of his books since first reading Naked all those years ago, and this ranks right up there with his best.