Category Archives: Humor

The Wising Off that Comes with Age: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (Audio) @HachetteAudio

cover image of audiobookLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, the latest collection of humorous essays by David Sedaris, should win back all of the author’s fans who didn’t like his foray into fables, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.

Read by the author, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls has 20 essays in all, some of which were previously recorded in front of an audience. Some of the essays appeared in print in The New Yorker magazine and maybe elsewhere, but they really do seem funnier when the author reads them in his dryly knowing, who-me? voice.

As a humorist, David Sedaris has a definite liberal bias, but politics is very rarely the subject of an essay, except as it relates to health care, President Barack Obama, and marriage laws. These are subjects in the titles of some of the essays, but the subjects of most of the essays are the author’s own experiences, or as they would be if they had all taken place on days when everything struck him as being highly significant or indicative of a universal truth, while being, at the same time, extremely annoying.

In Obama!!!!! the author, an American living in England with his partner Hugh, describes the experience of traveling in Europe after the 2008 election of President Obama and hearing “Obama!!!!” from everyone he meets, including shop clerks and waiters. At first, he doesn’t mind being constantly congratulated on his country’s behavior, and smiles along at the constant cry of “Obama!!!!!”, but after a while, he starts to tire of the implication that underlies the surprise and pride that Europeans keep expressing to him – that America, as a country, had been thought too immature, too ignorant, and too racist to elect a black president, but look! they did it!

At the end of the book, after the 20 essays, the author includes six monologues that are ostensibly there for teens to perform in their forensics competitions in school, which he included, he says, because he had learned that teens have been using his work to read in front of panels of judges for these competitions. In each of the six monologues, he takes on a different persona, each one more offensive than the last. So these missed the mark for me as comedy, but maybe I took them too seriously.

This collection has several essays dealing with aging, travel, learning foreign languages, doing book tours, and living abroad. It also includes a special addition to the audio edition of Pimsleur phrases in Japanese that were not taught on the Pimsleur language learning CDs.

If you’ve enjoyed other David Sedaris audiobook collections in the past, you will probably enjoy this one. If not, probably not. If you’ve never listened to any before, I would recommend starting with one of the earlier collections, maybe Holidays on Ice or Naked, to get a feel for his humor and the personality he takes on in his essays (which I assume is a more highly concentrated version of his own actual personality).

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Sedaris, David
Narrated by the author
Hachette Audio
April 2013
$29.98 US/$32.98 CAN
7 hours on 6 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

Sound Bytes badgeThis review is linked up to Sound Bytes, a weekly link-up of audiobook reviews at Devourer of Books.


It’s Humor, Folks!: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

cover image of audiobookThere were so many excerpts from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother audiobook by Amy Chua that I wanted someone else to listen to, that I was sorry I didn’t listen to this when it came out (in 2011) and everyone else was reading and talking about it. If I had known it was funny, I would have tried to get to it sooner. Whether it was marketing that pushed it as a parenting book, reviewers who got the wrong end of the stick, or just my being misled by the shocked uproar over this book, but I didn’t know it was intended to be humorous.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a memoir of parenting, but in the way that essays by David Sedaris are memoirs about his own experiences. Pretty nearly everything is exaggerated to the extreme for effect. So, even though readers know 1.) that Amy Chua’s two girls never called Child Services on her; 2.) that the author is a highly respected lawyer married to a highly respected law professor; and 3.) that many arguments can be hugely funny later even though seemingly serious at the time – there were still so many readers posting catty commentary like “What was Jed Rubenfeld doing while wife Amy Chua was calling their children garbage and threatening to burn their stuffed animals?” (Daily Beast) or readers worried about the mental well-being of the two daughters, that I thought the book was intended to be a serious espousal of strict parenting. (From what I can tell, BTW, the two daughters are more than able to handle their mother. And, anyway, she’s given away her parenting secrets now.)

If you have trouble seeing the humor in, for example, The Grinch who Stole Christmas TV show because you feel so sorry for Max the dog even though you know that in the end all will be well, the Grinch’s heart grows several sizes, and, after the story ends, the Grinch might even publish a best-selling book about his personal growth as a dog-owner and Who-advocate – then this book with its epic, knock-down-drag-out battles between mother Amy and daughter Lulu over violin practice and older daughter Sophia’s scorned efforts at peacemaking is not for you. Like the original Grinch TV show, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a sharply worded, cleverly constructed cartoon.

The author narrates the audiobook, which lends it authenticity, and she does an excellent job of it, although you may notice her being extra careful to enunciate at times, something that isn’t usually obvious with professional audiobook narrators. Listen to an excerpt from Penguin Audio here.

For a balanced take on the distinctions between “Western” parenting and “Asian” parenting made in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I like this Telegraph article, The Discipline of a Chinese Mother from UK novelist Allison Pearson, author of I Don’t Know How She Does It.

Here’s one infamous scene from one of Lulu’s refusals to practice her violin, described in Chapter 11:
She punched, kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have The Little White Donkey perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army. Why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic.
Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu – which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her…

The book had a little too much about music practice for me (Amy Chua is clearly a classical music lover.) and a little too much about the family pet Samoyed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s journey through a hellish period of motherhood to come out the other side a little older, wiser, and not so over-confident.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Chua, Amy, author & narrator
Penguin Audio, 2011
6 hours, 5 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook through my public library system.

Sound Bytes badgeSound Bytes is a weekly link-up of audiobook reviews hosted by Jen at Devourer of Books.


Chronic Underachiever Makes Good: The Choke Artist by David Yoo

cover image of The Choke ArtistDon’t let the innocent-looking boy on the cover of David Yoo‘s The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever fool you into thinking this hilarious memoir about coming of age Asian in a sea of white faces is for the same audiences as his YA novels, Girls for Breakfast and Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, or his middle-grade novel, The Detention Club. The cringe-worthy comedy of The Choke Artist gets pretty graphic with its escalating, self-deprecating, true confessions, ranging from high school through his post-college years. It is definitely adult reading! Perhaps perfect for the “New Adult” audience, but its themes of identity and belonging will resonate with adults of all ages.

I recently met David Yoo at a library conference in Cambridge, Mass., not far from his current home. When he arrived for the Speed Dating with the Massachusetts Must-Read Authors event, I welcomed him and blurted out, “I’m reading your book right now!” (I was only about 30 or so pages in, at the time.) He turned pale and briefly put a hand over his eyes. “Don’t tell me that!” he pleaded.

A few weeks later, reading farther along in The Choke Artist, I realized the horror he might have felt at this middle-aged librarian, possibly the age of his mother, reading his stories of juvenile delinquency, teenage lust, sibling rivalry, and longing to belong. Not to mention that I might take umbrage as a fellow parent at all the jokes he makes at his parents’ expense. (Just now, though, I checked Wikipedia, and I would have had to give birth at age 13 to be his mother. So relax, Dave!) I’m sure quite a few of these stories of his reckless youth and undersexed college days are wild exaggerations, in any case. At least, I hope so, for his sake. (And for his poor mother’s!)

The book reads like stand-up comedy and purports to explain the author’s need to be an underachiever, both in response to his older sister’s being a “model minority” who played the violin and “studied her tail off” and to his “full-blown, deep-seated ambivalence towards my ethnicity.”

Here’s how the book begins, with a chapter entitled Gangs of New England. The author is attending high school in Avon, Connecticut, which according to, is 93.6% white.

I formed my first posse junior year of high school. There were three of us: me, my best friend, Jay, and his best friend, Chris. What initially brought us together was our mutual love of rap music. That, and we were three of the bigger losers at Avon High. Previously, I’d been a member of the elite soccer crew. It was the main sport in school – the football team sucked, and at one point the varsity soccer team was ranked second in the country, according to the USA Today national rankings. Just being on team carried serious social cachet, but I didn’t get along with the coach at all, and startlingly soon after quitting I had a major falling-out with my friends and found myself temporarily sitting by myself at lunch. I needed new compadres, fast, and the only two guys in school who weren’t part of an established clique already were Jay and Chris.

They hung out by themselves because they didn’t play sports, and on top of that, they were from the poor part of town. Or relatively poor, at least. Avon was absurdly wealthy, so to clarify: by “poor” I mean “squarely ensconced in the middle class.” But within the utterly unrealistic microcosm of society that was Avon, they were the closest thing to burnouts at our school. While most guys were working up a sweat playing sports or freely making out with one another in the privacy of drama rehearsal, these two still rode Mongoose dirt bikes with plastic fluorescent green pegs on both sides of their back tires, practicing bunny hops and rail slides outside Chucky’s food store on West Avon Road after school. Suffice it to say, socially this was a giant step down for me, but I desperately needed a new crew, and they were my only viable option.

I was stunned when I found out they listened to rap music, too. I’d tagged them as typical skate punks, whereas it made perfect sense that I would get obsessed with rap, since I was the closest thing to a black kid in town. Well, there actually was one real black kid in my grade, but definitely anytime he was out sick from school I was easily the next best thing, simply due to the fact that – as an Asian kid – I was pretty much the only other male student of color within town limits. Although now I can see how he might secretly have resented it, back then I was always deeply jealous of the fact that everyone assumed the black kid was tough just for being black, while my skin tone suggested to everyone that I was a bookish nerd destined to one day steal engineering jobs from them before getting selected as an alternate for the Olympic table tennis team. Nobody would believe that I was in reality a C student and an utter nightmare for my parents at home, and this glaring oversight distressed me no end.

The Choke Artist was recently selected by Massachusetts Book Award judges as a 2013 Must Read nonfiction title, out of books published in 2012 either by a Massachusetts author or having a Massachusetts theme. If you enjoy humorous memoirs along the lines of David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, or Mindy Kaling, you’ll probably enjoy laughing and cringing your way through The Choke Artist, too.

The Choke Artist
Yoo, David
Grand Central, 2012
258 pp.
$13.99 US / $15.50 CAN

Disclosure: I borrowed this book through my public library network.