Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To Teach and Delight

Early in the semester as we attempted to define humor in our own words, Dr. Ellis shared with us a quote from Sidney about poetry. Sidney said that poetry has the ability to teach and to delight, and we've come to realize that humor has the same abilities. Humor is entertainment with a purpose. Amy Sedaris's book, "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence" is a perfect example of this. It manages to be hilarious and oddly useful at the same time. The purpose of this book seems to be twofold: to give practical tips for entertaining and to, at the same time, mock the mostly female Martha Stewart syndrome. One of the ways that Sedaris is able to accomplish both tasks is through the unconventional format that she chooses.
Amy Sedaris does not write a string of somewhat related essays like her brother, David Sedaris, does. Her book is all over the place. At first, it annoyed me in the way that I sometimes get annoyed reading magazine articles. There's always little boxes and inserts and pictures with captions. I lose my way and get distracted and have to either start all over again or just move on. Through reading, I learned to love the way Sedaris managed to provide anecdotes, recipes, advice, directions for simple crafts, social commentary all on the same page. To get to this point, I had to change the way I read. This book cannot and should not be read cover to cover. It's impossible, and it will severely restrict your understanding of what Sedaris is getting at. She wants you to put all prior knowledge of social norms and behavioral guidelines out the window. Read this book the way you want to read it. Throw a party the way you want to throw a party. The bulk of my enjoyment from this book came from the fact that I could pick it up, open to any page, start reading, and get something out of it. It could be a laugh of a recipe, but either way the reading experience was worthwhile. Sedaris doesn't want people to think that entertaining, or life, needs to be step by step and perfect. We should embrace it just the way it is, and not stress about how it "should" be or look. She calls herself "clinically simple" early on in the book. While the way the information in the book is presented is anything but simple, with its illustrations and horde of information, I think her ultimate message is something quite simple. It stems from the idea that we need to be ourselves and be comfortable in our own uniqueness.

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