Thursday, October 14, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

I'd already heard the first story ("The Cat and the Baboon") from David Sedaris' new "bestiary" entitled Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk on audio--it's included in an audiobook I found last year called Live For Your Listening Pleasure. Although "The Cat and the Baboon" is my least favorite on that audio, it's quite agreeably snarky about humans and their habits and foibles, so I expected more like it when I began reading these stories, and I was not disappointed.

The volume itself looks like the kind of book you would give to a child as a present--small, printed on thick stock, and attractively illustrated by Ian Falconer. I do hope that the kind of parents and grandparents who don't usually read what they give to children purchase this book and give it away this holiday season, because that would really spread some joy, along with a little eye-widening.

The point of "The Cat and the Baboon," as far as I can see, is how awkward it can be to have one of those conversations with someone you've hired to cut your hair but otherwise have little in common with. Conversation must be made, and most haircutters are good at keeping it going, but it can get awkward, if not downright rude sometimes, when you're unaware that you've stepped on the feelings of someone who is being paid to cater to your whims.

One of my favorites is "The Parenting Storks." First of all the title is wonderful, using "parenting" as a verb (I've been complimented for my "parenting skills" by a clerk at the local supermarket who was merely appreciative of the fact that I kept my kids from grabbing anything and throwing it on the floor). Second...well, let me quote a rather long bit, rather than attempt to explain--and therefore spoil--the jokes:

The precocious stork was only two weeks old when he asked where babies come from.
"Goodness," said his mother. "I mean, golly, that's quite some question." She considered herself to be as modern as anyone, but didn't you have to draw the line somewhere? "Let me get back to you on that," she said, and she shoved a herring down his throat with a bit more force than usual.
Later that day the mother stork repeated the conversation to her sister, who also had a recently born chick. She meant is as a Don't kids say the darnedest things type of story and was unprepared for the reaction she got.
"Your only son came to you for answers, and you didn't give them to him?"
"Well, of course I didn't," the stork said. "Why, he's just a baby himself. How can he be expected to understand something so complicated?"
"So children should be put off or, even worse, lied to?"
"Until they're old enough, sure."
"So we lie and we lie and then one day they're just supposed to believe us?"
"That's how it was with our family, and I never felt particularly traumatized," the stork said. "Besides, they're not lies so much as stories. There's a difference."
"Oh, is there?" spat her sister, surprised at how angry this was making her. "Give me an example."
The stork squinted over the surrounding rooftops until something came to her. "All right. I remember seeing my first full moon and being told by Granddad that it was a distant natural satellite formed billions of years ago. And I believed it for the longest time until I learned the truth."
"The truth?" her sister said.
"God made it," announced the stork.
Her sister felt suddenly ill. "Who?"
"God," the stork repeated. "He made the world and the heavens, all of it out of dust and willpower, and in less than a week! I overheard a cardinal talking about him on top of the cathedral in the square, and it was really quite instructive."
"So is that who brings the babies? God?"
"Lord no," the stork said. "Babies are brought by mice."
It took a moment before her sister could speak. "Oh, sweetie," she said, "our babies are huge, so how on earth--"
"These are special mice," the stork explained. "Capable of lifting things much heavier than themselves. They hide until you lay your eggs, see, and then, when your back is turned, they slip the chicks inside."
"But we build our nests on chimney tops," the sister said. "How could a little mouse--a mouse carrying a live, vivacious newborn--climb that high? And how would he hold the chick while he did it?"
"Ever hear of magic pockets?" the stork asked.
"Magic mice pockets, sure," her sister said, and she wondered how anyone so gullible could manage to feed herself, much less build a nest and raise a child. "And where exactly did you get this information?"
"Oh," said the stork, "just this guy I've been having sex with."
Now it was the sister's turn to stare over the rooftops. "I know," she said. "Why not tell your son that's where babies come from--sex. It's crazy, I know, but maybe it will tide him over until he's old enough to grasp that whole magic-mouse concept."

Isn't that delicious? It wouldn't work except as a story about, ahem, dumb animals. Among my other favorites are a comparison of humans and dogs in "The Faithful Setter," a satire on optimism in "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat," a Rita Skeeter-worthy caricature of a journalist with an agenda in "The Parrot and the Potbellied Pig," and an extremely funny version of how "The Grieving Owl" gets wise.


SFP said...

Oh, that is too funny. Maybe I should start yet another book instead of waiting until later to read the new Sedaris.

He was here in Charlotte on Monday, but we missed him this time around.

M. Denise C. said...

I saw him a while back before this book was published. He was drawing animals in people's books in honor of this forthcoming book. He drew a bird for me. Thanks for reminding me to get the book.

Anonymous said...

I have never read anything by David Sedaris, but I plan to do so right after my boyfriend finished his copy of one of his books (can't remember the title, I'm afraid). Now I wish I could read this volume as well. Something about the animals appeals to me.

Anonymous said...


Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Ha ha, that is funny! I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this one or not - it seemed a little odd - but it seems like it picks up on Sedaris' style and that I'd like it :)

Jenny said...

I like David Sedaris. I've only read Me Talk Pretty One Day, but I remember finding it really charming. And it is so true about the hairdressers! I love the lady who cuts my hair, but we always have those awkward moments where neither of us is sure what to say next. Dental assistants too.

Jeanne said...

Susan, I've been told that I should see him in person; last time he came to Columbus I thought it was too expensive (also a weeknight) but since then I've been told emphatically that the show is worth every penny!

M. Denise C., lucky you!!! What book did he draw the bird in?

Iris, my recommendation is always to begin with "Six to Eight Black Men" from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

ReadersGuide, it's your kind of humor.

Kim, I had almost the same reaction, which is why I said The Cat and the Baboon was my least favorite on the audio. But there's a cumulative effect.

Jenny, you made me laugh out loud thinking of one-sided "conversations" with dental assistants! They have the hardest job of all in terms of polite chat with virtual strangers!

Lori L said...

I love David Sedaris' humor and am looking forward to reading this book someday. (Six to Eight Black Men was hilarious, wasn't it?) When you actually hear him tell or read his stories they are in many ways even better.

Jeanne said...

Lori, so true; hearing him read his stories is much better than reading them silently to myself. Some of the ones where that makes the biggest difference are about his brother, like "Rooster at the Hitchin' Post."