Books One and Two: Memoirs Based in Humanity, by David Sedaris and Porochista Khakpour

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I would normally not think of placing these two books side by side- but having read them one after the other, I find that they share a real-ness and rawness that is very engaging..  Reading both books, I felt as if I was hanging out with a friend for an afternoon of tea and story-telling.  David Sedaris seems to come naturally to sharing intimate details of his personal life and thoughts, while Porochista Khakpour admittedly starts with a contrived narrative that she strips back in order to expose a reality that is less than glamorous.

Neither book seems to have a finish line or specific point- rather they each offer a glimpse not only into the private lives of the authors, but also delve – fairly deeply at times – into matters of the human condition, which include health (both mental and physical), culture, society, politics, the demands and complexities of relationships- families and friendships, and more..

Sedaris writes from a perspective that is based in humor- his chapters had me laughing out loud, giggling and chuckling through page after page.  But he also shows a deeply tender and vulnerable side that reaches directly to the heart of difficult subject matter(s).  As this past month I have been struggling with health issues that led me to a couple of overnights in the hospital, his writing brought lightness to an otherwise bleak experience.  I find genius in writers and writing that can shine light (and smiles!) into those terribly human moments that we all go through.

Khakpour, on the other hand, opens up about her long-suffering battle with chronic pain and debilitating health issues that ultimately winds up with a diagnosis of Lyme’s disease.  She writes in a stark and realistic style and goes pretty deep, without the feeling of over-sharing or dramatizing her struggles.  I was surprised that I did not find the book tedious, as it dwells on less-than-dazzling repetitive stories of doctors’ visits, symptoms and the frustration of not finding answers.  Instead, I found a human voice that wants others to understand a little about what chronic illness entails.  Again, with my current health situation, I felt a connection and a shared humanity with the author and the story.

I realize that I posted earlier that my first book would be the one my son gave me (No One Is Coming to Save Us)- but Sedaris’s Calypso is also a book that Michael selected from a tiny bookstore on our mini summer vacation – this time for himself- but I stole it (borrowed it) and read it speedily…  It is back on his shelf, and I am still committed to finishing the other book he gave me at some point in this reading adventure..  You just never know what book is going to call to you, and right now I needed a bit of non-fiction..

Hope everyone is having a nice summer!  Happy reading!

13 comments on “Books One and Two: Memoirs Based in Humanity, by David Sedaris and Porochista Khakpour”

    1. Hi Sejal, I would recommend both books.. “Sick” felt worth reading- a little because so many people are talking about it, but mostly because I think she – as a writer previous to, during, and now after her illness – has a way of sharing that is not only confessional, but thoughtfully written. While I was reading it, I didn’t know how it would sit with me on reflection. Turns out, there were many passages that have popped up and sort of hit me again and again as I think back on the book..

      And, I actually ordered two more Sedaris books to keep on hand- he broke through a pretty dark mood to bring me to actually laughing out loud (from another room, my son kept saying .. “Mooommmm… are you reading that book again?”), so I think it will be good to have some more material, you know- just in case I need it .. 🙂

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  1. I am dealing with chronic pain that so far has not been satisfactorily diagnosed or responded to treatment. I spent two months in Chicago (I live in PA) with either my brother or a friend looking for help with no success. I love reading David Sedaris–he’s great in person too. When I was in Chicago, my friend ordered one of Sedaris’ books for me (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls). It did help me get through a difficult time! I feel so lucky when I find things that make me laugh. Laughter really can be healing. I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle a book that focuses on chronic pain right now, but I am glad to know about it. I do think helping folks understand chronic pain is so important. It can be a very isolating and lonely experience. I I hope your health issues are being resolved! Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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    1. Hi Barbara, I am so sorry to hear about your chronic pain. I have also suffered with on-again-off-again-pain for may years. I have flare-ups- usually under higher than normal levels of stress- but none quite to the extent of this past month.. (I have only been in the hospital twice in my life- once in 3rd grade to have my appendix removed, and once to give birth). So twice in the past month was really beyond my comfort zone…!!

      I totally understand your hesitancy toward Porochista Khakpour’s book. In fact, about halfway through I put it down- I spend enough time thinking about symptoms, doctors and unresolved health problems, and really did not see the point in spending my free time focused on just more, more, more of that… But, after a couple weeks, I picked it back up and just decided to stay to the end. In a way, for me, it felt like listening to someone who is struggling with the some of the same frustrations that I have been through- so it had a feeling of validation- maybe for me, knowing that I am not alone.. but also as a show of support for her- for someone who took the time to document difficult, sometimes boring, sometimes extreme, details in order to give a face and picture to the story of chronic illness… But- the book is definitely not for everyone- so I would trust your gut on this one.

      On the other hand, I am glad to hear that Sedaris helped you through a difficult time as well! Nothing like a good laugh to change our body chemistry (even just a tiny bit).. Another book that I really enjoyed was “Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient” by Norman Cousins- kind of an old-school classic – where he actually uses laughter and positive mood/thinking to combat his own diagnosis… let me know if you have any other book recs for those less than stellar days and moments…!! I could always use a few more books in my stockpile 🙂

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  2. I’m so sorry to hear of your health situation, Meredith. Hospitals are not nice places. I love hearing about how you borrowed the Sedaris from your son and had to read it so quickly, And I really agree with you that sometimes nonfiction is what is needed–it’s that voice speaking to us through the text, telling us we’re not alone.

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    1. Hi Nadia, thank you so much for your kind thoughts.. I agree, hospitals are absolutely no fun. Though, having said that- the staff where I was were so incredibly kind and professional – and that really helped.

      As for the Sedaris- to be honest, I hadn’t been able to finish a book (any book!) in several months – so when I started flying through the stories in “Calypso” I just kept going as fast as I could until I finished… I needed that sense of accomplishment to encourage me to pick up my next book.. My son was, of course, proud of his “perfect” choice (he saw the book in the front window of the bookstore we were in- a tiny, cozy spot in Gloucester, MA- and it was the last copy, so the woman helping us had to actually climb into the window to retrieve it- it was like a scene straight from one of Sedaris’s stories, I think he would appreciate it!).

      And yes, to non-fiction – and the voice reaching out to us – I love every kind of book – but sometimes only a real person telling a real story will do!

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  3. Meredith, I’m sorry to hear that your being scarce this summer is related to your health. I hate hearing that word, Hospital. But I’m glad people there were good to you. All best wishes for you and your family.

    I’m glad David Sedaris was a help. I’m a fan. I think I discovered him in one of the many New Yorker magazine pieces he has written. My favorite is a book of short stories, “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” The title story makes me laugh and laugh. Anyone who has tried to learn a little French and use it while traveling there will crack up; but, really, anyone reading it will crack up. So good. Sedaris comes to Dallas most years for an event called “Arts and Letters Live,” to read and talk about his latest. He’s a big draw.

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    1. Hi Teri 🙂 Yes, I wish my scarcity was for something much more interesting and fun, like travel or beaches…!! Thank you for your well wishes..

      After finishing “Calypso” I immediately ordered “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and “Naked” … I am currently reading Jane Hirshfield’s “Nine Gates” (which I saw in a ModPo thread and just had to pick up), and it is quite slow-going and decadent, but I am loving it.. I may sprinkle in some Sedaris stories when I need a quick fix of laughter and quicker reading…

      I would love to see Sedaris live- maybe I will take my son if he has any dates in our neck of the woods!

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      1. I have reserved “Calypso” at the library. Yes, do toss in a Sedaris story as needed. I’m midstream in reading “Nine Gates.” Every time I pick it back up, I want to go back to the beginning and start over. I want to memorize some parts of it. I’m getting nowhere, slowly.

        Back to Sedaris–we lived in North Carolina for about five years, so his stories of growing up there always recall funny experiences we had being transplanted Yankees back in the 70’s. For example, soon after we arrived, I went to a diner for lunch by myself. They were in no hurry to bring my check to the counter, so I asked if I could please have it. The guy I asked shouted out to no one in particular, “This little girl here wants to know what the damage is?” Yes. 😀

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  4. Happy to hear from you meredith, but like others here I am sorry to hear of your pain– nice to know the reading helps at least a bit. And yes- flexibility with reading is so important.. glad your deviation from wk 1 has been fruitful!

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    1. Hi Alison ~ nice to hear from you, and hope you are enjoying summer! Reading always helps, and sometimes I feel that there is a very specific book or story that is seeking me out, and that’s kind of what happened here. My guess is that it was the laughter that I really needed 🙂 Once I get my concentration back, I look forward to enjoying a good novel though…

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  5. Meredith, I hope this makes you smile. I went to a live performance. A good friend was also somewhere in the audience that evening. Sedaris had everyone in hysterics as he told a story about his brother who had no confidence in the medical profession until he found a psychic medical doctor named Mona Lisa Schulz. His brother paid her to give him a diagnosis over the phone completely based on her medical intuition. I had read Schulz’s first book, Awakening Intuition, years ago and was fascinated. More recently my friend asked if I’d heard of her. She too called her for a medical consult. We were probably the only two people in the audience who had ever heard of Mona Lisa Schulz and, like Sedaris’ crazy brother, took her at all seriously. (Awakening Intuition is an interesting read.)

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    1. Barbara, your post did indeed make me smile 🙂 And I am intrigued about the book… the crossover of mind/body/spirit is something that I regularly spend time thinking about.. And the Sedaris connection is cool (so funny!) – one thing that I really loved about “Calypso” (and it sounds like his other books are similar) is how he simultaneously pokes fun at and shows such love for his family. I just searched his website and it looks like he will be in my neck of the woods next spring- thinking I might just buy a couple of tickets! (also looking into the book, Awakening Intuition- thanks for the rec)

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