Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules," edited by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a funny, original, insightful writer. The CD I recently listened to, “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules” (Simon & Schuster Audio, 2005) (Sedaris’ titles are usually quirky) shows his philanthropic side; the five stories in this collection were not written by Sedaris but rather selected, edited, and introduced by him. The stories on this audiobook are taken from a larger collection in a book of the same name that Sedaris also edited. He reads one story himself, and the others are read by writers and actors, including one by the wonderful actor Mary-Louise Parker. Sedaris published this audiobook “to support 826NYC, a nonprofit tutoring center in Brooklyn, New York, designed to help students ages six to eighteen develop their writing skills through free writing workshops…and one-on-one help with homework.” This organization, I happen to know, is an offshoot of writer Dave Eggers’ “826 Valencia,” here in San Francisco; the original San Francisco site for this wonderful and worthy project has inspired several others. The stories – one each by Patricia Highsmith, Tobias Wolff, Charles Baxter, Amy Hempel, and Akhil Sharma (what a marvelous selection of writers!) – are excellent, with a slight tilt to the eccentric and gloomy, and the readings do them justice. The only thing that seems a bit strange to me is that the label on the copy I borrowed from my local library says “Fiction, Children”; while this audiobook benefits children, the stories themselves are definitely adult-oriented (not as in "adults only," meaning sex and violence, but as in -- see above -- at times rather dark and gloomy). For readers who listen to audiobooks in their cars, as I do, or elsewhere, this is a short, well-chosen collection. That it benefits a good cause is a bonus.

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