Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

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Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
David Sedaris
Illustrations by Ian Falconer (author and illustrator of the Olivia books)
© 2010

First of all, I know that David Sedaris has a new book out.  I haven’t read that one. Why did I  read his three-year-old book instead?  Here’s the deal: I’m supposed to be reading something in a good friend’s wedding in September.  So, I’ve been looking for something short and lovely but not trite.  The other day, someone suggested there might something good in a Sedaris book.   She specifically suggested Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, because the stories are so short.  Well, happy day!  A couple of years ago, I had given the book as a stocking stuffer to someone who adores all things critter-related, so it was conveniently sitting (unread) on our bookshelf.  And there you have it.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must divulge that I’m a little over David Sedaris.  I’ve read most of his books over the years.  Some of his stories are delightful and funny (as I recall, there are some true gems in Holidays on Ice).  Others are just boring (like most of When You Are Engulfed in Flames).  He’s a little inconsistent, but mostly he’s just past his prime.   Let’s face it, as people get older, they stop being as funny as they once were (Exhibit A).

If you disagree with my assessment, I refer you to his most recent interview on The Daily Show:  

I’m sure some of you think this is the best interview of all time, just as you think David Sedaris is the funniest writer of all time.  But, for me, it’s an exemplification of what is both good and bad about David Sedaris.  He has a couple of decent one-liners (“Let me let you go,” and “Men with beards have fathers who have guns.  I’m 80% right on this.”).  But you can just tell he thinks he’s funnier than he actually is.  And, let’s be real, his timing is a little off.  He and Jon Stewart must be pals, because Stewart’s reactions to Sedaris’s jokes are a little over-the-top.  I think a lot of people’s are.  I chalk it up to nostalgia for the bygone era when Sedaris actually was a lot funnier.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a collection of fable-esque short stories that is similar to that interview: there are a couple of good lines that make you chuckle, but, overall, it’s not as good as Sedaris himself seems to think it is.  It is one of those books that is meant to look like a children’s book but is obviously intended for an adult audience (like Go the F**k to Sleep).  Each story is about 10 pages long and features a couple of animals, at least one of whom is an asshole.  Some of the stories are cute and funny and smart.  A couple are five pages of set-up for a not-so-clever punchline.  Several are a little too preachy (because, in the end, the asshole animal always gets what’s coming to him).

Basically, this book is like all of David Sedaris’ other short-story collections, except it’s jazzed up with personified animals and fun/creepy drawings.  It’s not bad, but it’s not as amazing and hilarious and brilliant and beguiling as the dust jacket would lead you to believe.  Its saving grace is that it’s only about 150 pages of large print with a smattering of those darkly cute illustrations, so if it’s on your bookshelf, you might as well read it.  It won’t take long.
Rating: 3/5  🐶
It will probably make you laugh once or twice.  And it has pictures!  Everyone loves pictures!!  But you’re not going to go around raving about it.  At least you shouldn’t.

Who should read it: my husband (i.e., people with short attention spans for reading, who also happen to like critters a whole lot); my friend Bonnie (i.e., people who think animals are cuter and funnier than people 95% of the time); people who really love David Sedaris (you know who you are).

When you should read it: Aloud on a car trip to your driver (if you haven’t done this before, start doing it immediately.  And use voices—it’s the only way); on a short commute (to yourself, silently, please); on the toilet (I’m not a toilet reader myself, but I would imagine it would be good for that).

Instead of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, you should read:

One final note: the Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk stories are not exactly what I would call lovey-dovey, so I will not be reading any of them in the aforementioned wedding (but I’m still looking for something to read, so keep those suggestions coming!).

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5 thoughts on “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

  1. While I totally respect your take on this, and also agree DS has grown less funny, or at least less insanely and ohmygoddidthatjusthappendidhesaythat funny, where my opinion of this book and your varies is in my take on what it’s purpose is. I don’t know that it would belong in the comedy section, but I still think it’s both hilarious and beautiful. He paints very softer pictures of awkward and hilarious moments which, in years past, would simply have been only comical and outlandish, and which would in years past had little more effect on the reader other than “he smoked meth with Santa? HAHAHA” Now, I think he’s developed a beautiful and appreciative voice and I would argue his last couple of books trump anything else he’s ever written. But in a different way.

    Full disclosure – we met DS last month and he made sure that each of the 1,000 people who wanted to talk to him were able to do for a couple of minutes, causing him to stay until some ungodly hour, like 7am, despite the fact he’d been doing book signings every night for 2 months. L and I learned from him what an Alabama HotPocket is, and he learned what the Houdinni is. He’s still very funny, though I’d agree that in person Amy is probably funnier. Still, I love DS and probably always will. Perhaps that makes me biased. But, on the flip side, I’ll tell you my favorite band of all time’s current music now sucks and I don’t like it. So I think I have the ability to retain objectivity on DS.

    Anyway, I don’t disagree with your review if all you’re looking for is to see if he is still as purely comical as he used to be. There may even be funnier things to read. But I’m still a big fan.

    Keep ’em coming.

    • Thank you for the comment, Sweater. I had a feeling a less-than-raving review of Mr. Sedaris might provoke you. 😉 Thematically, yes, my review centered on whether the book was funny. I don’t think there’s any question that Sedaris is trying to be funny (I mean, come on, there’s a limerick about an asshole lab rat getting injected with AIDS. That is an example of the “He smoked meth with Santa?” variety of Sedaris humor to which you refer). But if, as you argue, it does not “belong in the comedy section,” and you disagree that its purpose was to be funny, then what is its purpose? If the purpose is to impart morality lessons, then (as previously mentioned), it comes off too preachy. And obvious. And even, at times, mean. If I were to review this simply as a book and not a funny book, then I think it’s even worse.

      • Perhaps my comment that it doesn’t belong in the comedy section went past illustrative into hyperbole. It is comedic, but it is more than just comedy, and I see more in it than just allegedly subpar comedy (by whatever standard). It’s kind of like Rushmore is a comedy but a lot more too.

        Reckon I can’t change your mind on this one, but I can’t help shake the feeling you went in wanting to bust a seam and left without seeing some of the development he made as a writer in his last 3 books.

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