Since I spent one wretched holiday season working as a photo-taking elf at a shopping-mall Christmas kiosk (the same year, incidentally, that I sold blood plasma to obtain gift money), I've always felt something of a kinship with David Sedaris, whose 1992 "SantaLand Diaries" story -- about a similar elf stint -- on National Public Radio's Morning Edition launched his blockbuster career.
Oddly enough for a guy who identifies as a loser -- and whose essays reach for self-deprecating yuks -- everything Sedaris has touched since has turned to gold. His books (Holidays on Ice, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day) have sold millions of copies, his plays (written with his sister Amy, as "The Talent Family") run at swanky venues and win awards, and his writing appears regularly in magazines like Esquireand the New Yorker. Pretty high-toned stuff for someone whose former jobs include apartment cleaner, paint stripper, and fruit picker.
In his latest book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris continues to milk the series of unfortunate events that make up his life: the time he got mistaken for a serial killer, the time a cleaning customer gamely masturbated as Sedaris vacuumed his carpet, the time he had a violent run-in with the popular crowd. But these days Sedaris' reminiscences have a different tone. Fresh out of true thigh-slappers (I mean, how many times can you tell the one about when your sister brought home a hooker for the holidays?), Sedaris here relates tales that veer in the direction of the pedestrian. Thus, though his writing has lost a little of its laugh-out-loud, can-you-believe-this-guy? luster, with the beautifully rendered memories that fill Dress Sedaris has taken a step away from being the clown with a million lines and toward a bright future as an Important Author. It's not a moment too soon.