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A Carnival of Snackery

November 23, 2021

I’m not usually a big fan of reading memoirs or diaries, but I’ll read anything by David Sedaris so I picked up a copy of A Carnival of Snackery and read a bit of it before going to sleep every night. It was an excellent book for that purpose, not because it was boring but because it’s divided up into small pieces so I rarely had the impulse to read “just a little more” to get to the end of a scene or a chapter.

The title of the collection comes from an Indian restaurant in London, where in 2013 you could order from a menu offering “a carnival of snackery.”

Sometimes it can be a little discouraging to find out that no matter what kind of weird shit you’ve thought up, David Sedaris has heard of something weirder. My daughter and I used to have a joke about going into a fancy women’s clothing store, taking something to the dressing room as if to try it on, and then after a few minutes asking for toilet paper, although we never actually did it. Then I pick up this book and read that “when Hugh worked at the Gap in high school, people used to shit in the dressing rooms, but at Target anywhere is fair game.”

I wasn’t paying that much attention to the cast of characters and their relationship to David and Hugh, so when he tells a story about someone he is traveling with named Joan who always has a positive attitude, making it a pleasure to travel with her, I was extra impressed when I realized that Joan is his mother-in-law.

Having heard David read once in person and many times on recordings, there are parts I was hearing in his voice, like “she said this as if being a homosexual took hours of practice, not just at the start but every day of your life. Keeping your walk up, maintaining your little outfits—people think it’s easy, but it’s not.”

The moments of self-realization in a David Sedaris book are always funny; I enjoyed the story about touring the house of a former Icelandic novelist and playwright:
“The house was not particularly grand, and the things inside it were not significant except in their relation to the writer. Here was the fifties coffee table; here was the easy chair only he was allowed to sit in. The great man’s belongings, everything from his desk to his tie rack, screamed I am an asshole! My favorite thing was a crocheted turtle lying on his wife’s bed. The two had separate bedrooms, both of which were filled with his books.
‘Do you think a tour of your house would be any better?’ Hugh asked, and after wondering what he meant by ‘your house,’ I supposed that he was right.”

There’s an entry about funny place names in England, where we once stayed at a B&B called “Hunting Butts” and had a conversation about how, as Americans, we had more freedom in choosing names for our houses, rather than accepting whatever historical name was already associated even if it was something like “The Orange Chicken of Desire.” Along those same lines, Sedaris says that “before buying our cottage in West Sussex, we considered one called Faggot Stacks that was located between the villages of Balls Cross and Titty Hill. Americans die laughing at those names but Zoe, who is British, remained straight-faced and told me that as a child she’d spent her summers in Slack Bottom, which is in Yorkshire midway between Slack Top and Big Dike.” I find that Americans die laughing at their own place names too, and I’ve demonstrated this numerous times by telling people that the place where I went to college, in Arkansas, is halfway between Pickles Gap and Toadsuck Ferry.

I also identified with the part where Hugh tells David that people don’t always understand him because he speaks “in non sequiturs,” like the time he went to the butcher shop in the English village where they were living and, when “asked how my day had been so far, I held up my hands, which were scratched and bleeding from reaching into blackberry bushes for stray bits of trash, and said ‘Don’t I look like I own a cheetah?’” I mean yeah, I guess that sounds disconnected from what’s going on but it makes perfect sense if you think about it for half a second.

Even in his diary, David Sedaris can make me laugh and cry at the same time, like about the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting:
“Hugh and I were talking about the Orlando shooting, and when I got into how easy it is to buy an automatic weapon in America, he said it didn’t matter. ‘If it was more difficult, the guy would have just made a bomb.’
‘Certain people might, but most won’t even make their own pie crust,’ I argued, ‘and I think that if you made the guns more difficult to get, they’d do like everyone else and just yell and scream when they got angry.’
‘What kind of person wouldn’t make his own pie crust?’ asked Hugh, whose question makes him gayer than all of the shooting victims combined.
I pointed out the window at the greater world. ‘There are people out there,’ I told him, ‘who don’t even make their own eggnog.’
‘But that’s so…easy,’ he said, finally as sad and confused as the rest of us.”

In the entries after 2016 it’s obvious that Sedaris is too insulated by wealth and fame to be much affected by the actions of the 45th American president, the George Floyd protests, and the worldwide pandemic, although he still has his moments, like when “Hugh frowned out the window,” saying “We just can’t win” and David comments that “I think he meant a universal ‘we,’ as looking out the window of your Upper East Side duplex is pretty much the definition of winning.”

If you’ve liked reading anything by David Sedaris before, you’ll like A Carnival of Snackery.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2021 3:15 pm

    Since I laughed at all your excerpts, I should probably borrow the book from the library 🙂 Speaking of which, I volunteered for a couple years at the main downtown branch of my public library, and people really like to poo there too–in corners, on chairs and all over the bathroom except for where they are supposed to. It made me never want to sit down in a library again.

    • November 26, 2021 2:14 pm

      Since November 2016 I’ve been thinking that the society I live in is breaking down but it’s increasingly obvious that the breaking started long before I began to notice it.

  2. November 23, 2021 3:30 pm

    I think I should add this to the list as well! I admit, I have never even considered making my own eggnog, not even once. 🙂

    • November 26, 2021 2:15 pm

      My mother used to make “boiled custard” and it is good, better than store-bought eggnog. I don’t make it, though, because I’m lactose intolerant and don’t need more dairy-rich temptations at the holidays.

  3. November 26, 2021 9:33 am

    Travel Bucket List item added: Carnival of Snackery. I love Indian food and I love (the idea of) carnivals.

    I’d add to Sedaris’ point about the one weapon vs. the other: one of the two is policed more BECAUSE it’s rarer. It’s much easier to prevent a bombing than a mass shooting because the process of making the former happen is more conspicuously difficult. You can’t just walk around with one and there are no (legitimate) weapons shows (as far as I know) for explosives. Even the staunchest 2nd amendment defender in Congress couldn’t successfully argue for those kinds of “rights.”

    I mean, knowing American politics, they might try, but it’d be way more ridiculous. I mean, I hope. Please, PLEASE tell me I’m not just being a Pollyanna here.

    • November 26, 2021 2:16 pm

      I’d guess you’re right–what you say doesn’t sound Pollyanna-ish to me. But I really have no idea, as I live both in a fog and in the ivory tower.

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