Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays

Written by: David Sedaris

Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays Book Cover
In David Sedaris’s world, no one is safe and no cow is sacred. A manic cross between Mark Leyner, Fran Lebowitz, and the National Enquirer, Sedaris’s collection of essays is a rollicking tour through the national Zeitgeist: a do-it-yourself suburban dad saves money by performing home surgery; a man who is loved too much flees the heavyweight champion of the world; a teenage suicide tries to incite a lynch mob at her funeral; a bitter Santa abuses the elves.

David Sedaris made his debut on NPR’s Morning Edition with “SantaLand Diaries”, recounting his strange-but-true experiences as an elf at Macy’s, and soon became one of the show’s most popular commentators. With a perfect eye and a voice infused with as much empathy as wit, Sedaris writes stories and essays that target the soulful ridiculousness of our behavior. Barrel Fever is like a blind date with modern life, and anything can happen.
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Barrel Fever Stories and Essays Reviews

Jessie Kennedy
A very ridiculous and absurd collection of stories. Once again Sedaris fiction comes through! Sometimes his stories are so twisted that they're hard to enjoy but it's all very funny. Also this book has the Santaland Diaries which is my favorite essay ever.
Matty Smith
I first read this book in spring of 2001 as a freshman in college. Before then, I think the only essays and short stories I’d read were kind of of the greatest hits; Poe, King, de Beauvoir, Carver. I loved the sharp wit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and spent what I’m sure was a pretentiously inordinate amount of time joking about eating Irish babies with my other intellectual friends in our last year of high school.

But then came Barrel Fever. I had never read anything remotely close a I first read this book in spring of 2001 as a freshman in college. Before then, I think the only essays and short stories I’d read were kind of of the greatest hits; Poe, King, de Beauvoir, Carver. I loved the sharp wit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and spent what I’m sure was a pretentiously inordinate amount of time joking about eating Irish babies with my other intellectual friends in our last year of high school.

But then came Barrel Fever. I had never read anything remotely close and it blew my mind in a way something new SHOULD during your first year of college.

Here was an author whose stories sometimes dealt with the fact that he was gay. Essentially by not dealing with them. The way you would not deal with any other character’s heterosexuality. If it came up at all, it was simply that when this author is attracted to anyone, it’s a dude. But then sometimes the whole gay persona skewed fantastical. Like there’s no way he ACTUALLY had a relationship with Charlton Heston. Right? I mean this was pre-wikipedia but probably not. I didn’t know you were allowed to combine pop culture and real life and make up stuff like that!

And then the book wraps up with SantaLand Diaries, which I feel should be required reading for anyone who has any sort of social interaction (especially with people in the service industry) between November 1st and New Year’s of any given year.

As much as I truly enjoy this book, and it holds up upon rereading (though sometimes more as a legit time capsule of “yup, sounds like the life adults were leading in the mid-90s”) it is possible I’m partially biased by what this book meant to me.

I was no longer living in my parents world. While they’d never really exercised censorship when it came to what I read -- my Mom had decided that Stephen King was ok when she thought about it and realized that, for the most part, good triumphs over evil in his stories -- I knew them well enough to know what I could or couldn’t “get away with” around them. Hell, even today I know my Mom would grimace at Barrel Fever’s cover of two guys sticking their tongues out. And I’d just roll my eyes. If she only knew what was between the covers...

Here was a world made by someone who surrounded himself with the same type of creative and weird people I’d always tried to befriend. He wasn’t working in an office or getting married or having kids. While he was actually older at the time of publication, David Sedaris was describing what I essentially came to realize was my 20s. It was real. And magical. And strange. And amazing.

Very obviously a book from early in his career if you’ve read the rest of Sedaris’ library but I think, on reflection, that makes it even more interesting. While he was very certain and sassy about where he belonged in the universe, he still hadn’t totally found his voice. He was growing and changing. Just like I was then. And still am now.
Sarah Ferguson
Five stars for the stories about Sedaris' own life; one star for the fiction. I'm pretty sure I wrote nearly the same review for "Holidays on Ice".
Over Sea, Under Stone :: The Elf Queen of Shannara :: اسرار گنج دره جنی :: The Complete Stories of Truman Capote :: Pericles/Cymbeline/The Two Noble Kinsmen
Jenny
I stumbled upon this book and was so happy I did. Sedaris never disappoints in his books for being able to make me laugh and want to share his stories with others!
Sarah
I was on retreat with other writers when I read this, and annoyed everyone with my guffaws and snorts. I wet my pants - that's how funny this book is.
Fox
David Sedaris has always been an interesting author for me. Some of his stories are so hilarious they make me laugh out loud - or in this case rush into the other room to share a few paragraphs here and there with my husband, while other stories simply leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. It isn't that I dislike certain stories of his, it's just that at times certain tales of his are just harsh enough to rub me the wrong way and leave me with an uneasy feeling. Effective? Yes, I suppose so. T David Sedaris has always been an interesting author for me. Some of his stories are so hilarious they make me laugh out loud - or in this case rush into the other room to share a few paragraphs here and there with my husband, while other stories simply leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. It isn't that I dislike certain stories of his, it's just that at times certain tales of his are just harsh enough to rub me the wrong way and leave me with an uneasy feeling. Effective? Yes, I suppose so. Though a bit too cynical for me to truly enjoy.

That having been said, Barrel Fever was an interesting first collection of his. While other collections such as Me Talk Pretty One Day are far more lauded, and I assume, a great deal better, this book was good enough that I would be liable to seek out more of his work were I not familiar with it. In particular, "Santaland Diaries" is good enough for me to want to read more of his essays in particular and the whole collection could stand on that alone. "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2" was also hilarious to me and stood out among the rest.

I'd be hesitant to recommend this whole collection to anyone, but "Santaland Diaries" I'd pretty much never hesitate to recommend. I'm looking forward on diving deeper into Sedaris's work and seeing just what I may find, even if his work is distasteful to me now and again.
Mike Del Vecchio
I picked this up recently from Barnes and Noble's humor section. It sat alongside Matt Groening's Simpsons Comics Compendium books. I was familiar with Sedaris before going in. I expected dry humor and modern writing style. Barrel Fever delivered.

I heard about Sedaris while at college. A friend was reading his book one day in her room, the one with "Corduroy" in the title. I also read part of "Me Talk Pretty One Day" as part of an English course back then.

This book is pretty good. Three or four I picked this up recently from Barnes and Noble's humor section. It sat alongside Matt Groening's Simpsons Comics Compendium books. I was familiar with Sedaris before going in. I expected dry humor and modern writing style. Barrel Fever delivered.

I heard about Sedaris while at college. A friend was reading his book one day in her room, the one with "Corduroy" in the title. I also read part of "Me Talk Pretty One Day" as part of an English course back then.

This book is pretty good. Three or four (out of about fifteen) of the stories/essays are memorable. Many of the selections seem fairly real, as if based on the author's own life. The writing is well-constructed and there is a definitive tone/style to it. I laughed out loud quite often while reading.

The title piece is the best in the book. Some of the writing seems to blur lines between raw humor, then into some sort of dark place of reality, then there are more artistically-bent sections. Very relatable stuff to anyone who has spent time in Manhattan. This is the first book by Sedaris I've read cover-to-cover and I definitely enjoyed it. It took a while to finish, but I'm a lazy reader at times.

As it is one of his first I can forgive some weaker parts (mostly occur in later sections and only last a couple of sentences at a time). I found a single sentence I believe is constructed incorrectly. I also found some of the phrasing/delivery came off as a little bit amateurish. But overall it was worth the purchase. Final word: The "SantaLand Diaries" while supposedly his career launchpad, was one of the weaker pieces in the book, if you ask me.
Elijah Bowen
Ok I just didn't love this one... Barrel Fever differs from the rest of Sedaris's work right off the bat, with the majority of the book devoted to fictional short stories instead of his trademark autobiographical essays. I really enjoyed a few of them, especially "Parade", "We Get Along", and "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter". It's clear that Sedaris is at his best when he's relating stories based off of his own life experiences. His talent lies in his ability to highlight the absurdity and idiosyn Ok I just didn't love this one... Barrel Fever differs from the rest of Sedaris's work right off the bat, with the majority of the book devoted to fictional short stories instead of his trademark autobiographical essays. I really enjoyed a few of them, especially "Parade", "We Get Along", and "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter". It's clear that Sedaris is at his best when he's relating stories based off of his own life experiences. His talent lies in his ability to highlight the absurdity and idiosyncrasies of people and life itself. He's able to do this with far more sharpness and warmth when his targets are the people he's known over the years or even himself. It seems that he discovered this shortly after Barrel Fever was published (perhaps due to the huge success that was SantaLand Diaries) and has since (for the most part) stuck to the raucous "based off of true events" stories that has brought him such success.

When it came to the essays, they weren't bad at all but they definitely weren't his best. HOWEVER- SantaLand Diaries was the one, gloriously hilarious exception to that. It makes a lot of sense that it was his first big break.

Obviously I wouldn't recommend this one if you're looking for quintessential David Sedaris, but it still has a couple good laughs and, being his debut book, can still be appreciated by his avid readers.
Kevin
I like Sedaris quite a lot but this was B material. Maybe I had been reading too much at a time, it was my 4th of his books in 2 months.

This had the famous essay about being a Department store Santa, that PBS plays as an annual tradition. B.

There were still some golden gems of wording, like after noting how all the adults make the same jokes to Santa, "I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints." And he noted that tv detecting is an excellen I like Sedaris quite a lot but this was B material. Maybe I had been reading too much at a time, it was my 4th of his books in 2 months.

This had the famous essay about being a Department store Santa, that PBS plays as an annual tradition. B.

There were still some golden gems of wording, like after noting how all the adults make the same jokes to Santa, "I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints." And he noted that tv detecting is an excellent field for the physically challenged. "Physically Challenged Detective. Nowhere else on television do you find the blind, deaf, and paralyzed holding down such adventurous and high-paying jobs." He complains it is "confusing when a stupid man plays dumb." and hits out with glorious put-downs like "her breath smelling a mile off like her uncle’s dick." He quotes his Dad, “If you’re looking for sympathy you can find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.”

But the density of gems was way down.
Ed
This was hands-down my favourite of all Sedaris's works - the other reviews on here are (as usual) hilarious in their missing-the-pointness and shallowness of their criticisms.

It's a darker work, but the cynicism, unpleasantness and delusion are common threads in all his works. It's just that here, in his first publication, he didn't bother to sugar coat it in the usual of charming self deprecation that made his latter works such hits. I think this is a much better book for it, with a real grit, This was hands-down my favourite of all Sedaris's works - the other reviews on here are (as usual) hilarious in their missing-the-pointness and shallowness of their criticisms.

It's a darker work, but the cynicism, unpleasantness and delusion are common threads in all his works. It's just that here, in his first publication, he didn't bother to sugar coat it in the usual of charming self deprecation that made his latter works such hits. I think this is a much better book for it, with a real grit, originality and insight.

The people in these stories are all awful, even more so than they first appear, with delusion the common thread running throughout, leaving the reader wondering are they doing the worst damage to those around them, or themselves. It's incredibly satisfying, and I can't recommend it enough.
Brooke
Meh. Heavily uneven. This collection contains 12 short stories and 4 essays. The first story is very weird and funny and I fully enjoyed it. But no matter how I try, I cannot get into Sedaris's fiction. Usually first person, usually a highly unlikable character as narrator, often just plain offensive, and not in an edgy or shocking way, just in a tired old "really, you're doing that? Sigh. Okay, I guess." kind of way. The essays were very good, but very short, so they can't save this book. "Sant Meh. Heavily uneven. This collection contains 12 short stories and 4 essays. The first story is very weird and funny and I fully enjoyed it. But no matter how I try, I cannot get into Sedaris's fiction. Usually first person, usually a highly unlikable character as narrator, often just plain offensive, and not in an edgy or shocking way, just in a tired old "really, you're doing that? Sigh. Okay, I guess." kind of way. The essays were very good, but very short, so they can't save this book. "Santaland Diaries" is a mostly hilarious classic, but again, some highly offensive parts turned it a little sour.
Russio
Again an uneven collection, this is the earliest books of Sedaris’s work that I can find. It is also very funny in places. The title story is a real hoot. In this you don’t really imagine David as the narrator - he has given full rein to his acid side via his Mr Heck and he skewers the people he describes.

In other stories and essays he adopts various personae, often with similar results. Oddly, he seems more fully for,ed as a writer than he does in the later Naked. In his youth there is also a Again an uneven collection, this is the earliest books of Sedaris’s work that I can find. It is also very funny in places. The title story is a real hoot. In this you don’t really imagine David as the narrator - he has given full rein to his acid side via his Mr Heck and he skewers the people he describes.

In other stories and essays he adopts various personae, often with similar results. Oddly, he seems more fully for,ed as a writer than he does in the later Naked. In his youth there is also a sense that anything could happen and again the title story’s free-wheeling structure is the best example of this often glorious unpredictability.
James Roberts
I recently read Theft By Finding and decided it was time to go through and reread Sedaris. I first read Barrel Fever 20 years ago and loved it but it didn’t have the same charm for me now as it did in high school. I guess I’ve probably just gotten used to Sedaris as I know him today, which really made the amateurishness of a lot of his stories stand out dramatically. Still, a few of the shorts he still stood out (We Get Along and After Malison might be better than I remembered) and the closing f I recently read Theft By Finding and decided it was time to go through and reread Sedaris. I first read Barrel Fever 20 years ago and loved it but it didn’t have the same charm for me now as it did in high school. I guess I’ve probably just gotten used to Sedaris as I know him today, which really made the amateurishness of a lot of his stories stand out dramatically. Still, a few of the shorts he still stood out (We Get Along and After Malison might be better than I remembered) and the closing four essays were as delightful as I remembered. Overall, however, much of Barrel Fever feels terribly dated, even if the inklings of modern Sedaris can still be seen here and there.
T-bone
I am a big fan of Sedaris. I once paid an exorbitant sum of money to see him read stories of his that I had already read. I also paid for a date to go, and although she fell asleep, I have no regrets about going because his best stories are very funny. This collection I would not recommend though. The Sedaris stories I like best are autobiographical; in this collection he writes stories from the perspective of various, usually dislikable, fictional characters. I hate to compare writers, but the I am a big fan of Sedaris. I once paid an exorbitant sum of money to see him read stories of his that I had already read. I also paid for a date to go, and although she fell asleep, I have no regrets about going because his best stories are very funny. This collection I would not recommend though. The Sedaris stories I like best are autobiographical; in this collection he writes stories from the perspective of various, usually dislikable, fictional characters. I hate to compare writers, but the truth is I have written better stories than the ones in this collection.
Destini
David Sedaris is one of my favorite writers and I will read anything he writes, without hesitation. Like most reviewers, I was also unaware that this was his debut book, which makes sense because I started out reading his strongest works and worked my way back. It wasn't my favorite, but I still enjoyed it and finished it fast. It's still classic Sedaris- dry, sarcastic, witty. And it ended with SantaLand Diaries, which is my favorite piece, and the one in this book is an alternate version than David Sedaris is one of my favorite writers and I will read anything he writes, without hesitation. Like most reviewers, I was also unaware that this was his debut book, which makes sense because I started out reading his strongest works and worked my way back. It wasn't my favorite, but I still enjoyed it and finished it fast. It's still classic Sedaris- dry, sarcastic, witty. And it ended with SantaLand Diaries, which is my favorite piece, and the one in this book is an alternate version than the one I previously read.
Gabriella
After reading books with heavy topics, I really needed a change of pace. David Sedaris came to my rescue and he made me laugh as always. "Barrel Fever and Other Stories" is hilarious. David Sedaris sees the world from a pretty unique point of view and his self-deprecating humor is so enjoyable. His topics may not be for everyone but I enjoy them. Having listened to this on audio, the voices and accents his family members have is priceless. "Barrel Fever and Other Stories" is short but good thing After reading books with heavy topics, I really needed a change of pace. David Sedaris came to my rescue and he made me laugh as always. "Barrel Fever and Other Stories" is hilarious. David Sedaris sees the world from a pretty unique point of view and his self-deprecating humor is so enjoyable. His topics may not be for everyone but I enjoy them. Having listened to this on audio, the voices and accents his family members have is priceless. "Barrel Fever and Other Stories" is short but good things come in small packages.
Bradley
Published in 1994, this is a collection of short stories and essays from one of modern literature’s most acclaimed satirists. This collection features “SantaLand Diaries” which was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and chronicles the true story of Sedaris working as an elf at Macy’s. This was my first time reading Sedaris. It was enjoyable enough, but not anything I thought brilliant. So, perhaps this wasn’t the best Sedaris book to start with, but I am open to trying his more celebrated materia Published in 1994, this is a collection of short stories and essays from one of modern literature’s most acclaimed satirists. This collection features “SantaLand Diaries” which was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and chronicles the true story of Sedaris working as an elf at Macy’s. This was my first time reading Sedaris. It was enjoyable enough, but not anything I thought brilliant. So, perhaps this wasn’t the best Sedaris book to start with, but I am open to trying his more celebrated material.
Michael
Yay, David Sedaris. I have wanted to read this book since I saw it at Border's SF before it closed years ago. I saw it in my colleague's office a few months back and asked if it was good. "Yeah. You can borrow it if you like." Now I have read an entire Sedaris. I have heard him read many times on NPR and audio book since my wife listens to him, but now I have my own fulfilling experience with the genius. Double yay, David Sedaris.
Ai Miller
I'd read this years ago and returned to it for a project, and I don't know if it's that I'm older now and/or gayer, but this is absolutely so funny. I literally laughed out loud at parts of it. The fiction especially I loved--it gets at this aesthetic that is deeply biting and just is so deeply hilarious. Strongly encourage folks to return to this if it's been a while, and if you haven't read it, definitely give it a try. Highlights for me include "Parade" and "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter."
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth
I believe this is Sedaris's first book and it shows. A lot of it is fiction and he clearly was made to write personal essays. The essays are better, but also kind of highlights Sedaris's tendency to be problematic. I like him a lot and think he's smart and funny, but he can be quite classist and ableist and at times casually racist. I know it's kind of his shtick to be an equal-opportunist offender, but it was especially uncomfortable in this earlier work.
Andrew
After reading a few Sedaris books and then his own derision of Barrel Fever in Theft By Finding, I had to check it out. Definitely more experimental and weird than his other books, but so much fun. My favorite part was probably the surreal dive into the author's vision of his hypothetical relationship with Mike Tyson. It sounds weird and it's definitely unlike anything of his that I'm used to, but it's so rich and detailed and lively at the same time. Required reading for fans of Sedaris.
Adam Stone
David Sedaris is one of my favorite memoirists. His fictional short stories haven't aged well.

If you start with the title piece and read through the end, this is a five star book for me.

I recommend it for anyone curious as to what it was like to work retail during the Holidays during the late 20th century mall days, fans of slice of life essays, and people who only have the patience to read a few pages at a time.
Kali Bosworth
Really funny stories. All very human. Some too relatable, and some less relatable, but in a way that makes it feel relatable. I occasionally felt a little confused with some character's motives, or just what exactly was going on completely. But very rarely, and even then, I found myself laughing out loud.
Joel Morris
I was promised that this book would be hilarious.

Never set that expectation. It's almost impossible to attain.

This book wasn't even close to hilarious. Slightly outrageous, maybe, but that's not "hilarious".

Anyhow, I put it down several chapters in when it became apparent hilarity was not ensuing.
Doug
Sedaris's books must be listened to, with Sedaris narrating (or acting) his characters. I laughed all the way to Des Moines and back with this typically Sedaris collection of essays and fantasies about egocentric nut jobs. Amy's' funeral speech and David's exposition on his brother Rooster were particularly outrageous and hilarious.
Christina Packard
This was on a list of best 100 English language books. Nooooooooooooooo. I read it, but I feel I could have spent my time reading much better books. The stories had not value, and I did not find them funny. I see many like Sedaris writing, but there was nothing in this book that would want me to read any of his other books.
Susan
Just the right time for David Seders, found this old book cleaning up and decided to read it as I suffer through a head cold. Best part are the essays at the back of the book, particularly the timeless Santaland story. I just can't get interested in his fiction, it is just too dark and weird. When he is talking about his real life, the writing is just spot on!
John Kruse
If you ever meet David Sedaris, be sure to give him a big hug.

“I just looked at the pattern of my life, decided I didn't like it, and changed.”

“If you're looking for sympathy you'll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.”

“The Bible says that it’s all right to cast the first stone if someone dead is telling you to do it”
S
A few of the stories flew right over my head because they were littered with celebrity references I suppose I'm too young to get. And unfortunately the rest of the stories I didn't quite feel up to par with the rest of his books either. Still Sedaris, though.
Rebecca Suffety Patel
I have loved most of the books I’ve read by David Sedaris but this one was just not for me. Some parts were funny but if I would have read this first, I would have never read more and come to enjoy this author as much as I do.
Jen
I love him, but....the fiction short stories just don't do it for me. I kept trying to remind myself that they are fiction, but ugh. The memoirs stuff at the end was awesomely funny as always, although I had read Santaland Diaries before.
Sara
Early Sedaris is riddled with darker and edgier tones than his newer works. There are many gems in this collection of short stories and essays. After reading more of his current stories, you can see how much he has evolved as a storyteller. If you love sarcastic wit, you'll enjoy this collection.
Norb Aikin
Fun and fascinating. I wish I'd read "SantaLand Diaries" when I was still working in malls during Christmastime. Some of the stories don't seem to have much of a plot or a point, but the humor in the details is what makes this worth a read.
Tim Ganotis
Easily my least favorite of Sedaris' books. The writing is harsh and aggressive, out for shock value rather than quality. Too much fantasy, not enough of the author's voice that develops in later works with stories that blur the line between fiction and autobiography.
Kelly
Early David Sedaris. Not as well-developed as his more recent stuff, but -- at least as an aspiring writer -- it's cool to see how his work as changed and how his style has become more Sedaris-y over the years.
Alane
Sedaris in his deeply unsettling days. A couple of the greats from Holidays on Ice can be found here. But some of these are just too disturbing to share. I wonder whom I can get to destroy my copy when I die before anyone finds it? (Porn stash joke. Read the book and stop asking me what I think.)
Mark Robison
I loved “Calypso” so I decided to relisten to Sedaris’ books from the start, and this one does not hold up. The fictional short stories grind the book to a halt. The personal essays are generally good or at least show potential, though, and the audio version ends well with bonus material. Grade: B
Gail
As a huge fan, I expected more laughoutlouds. This book need a more discerning editor. His other books and talks are fabulous. That said, there are a few brilliant moments that no other writer can produce.
Ardita
One of Sedaris early work. I can't say I like his stories. I found his essays were much more well written and hilarious than his stories.

Just dive right into SantaLand Diaries in this one. Very funny.
Kathy Sebesta
Even for Sedaris the two or three essays I read were disgusting.
Elaine
This book was not for me. The only reason I finished it is because the audiobook version is only 3 hours long (regular fiction is about 10-12 hours).
Ann
I have only read David Sedaris’ essays, so I really enjoyed his short stories. "SantaLand Diaries" was definitely my favorite of the essays. Sedaris is such an awesome writer!!
Patricia
Kind of twisted, kind of cynical, VERY funny!
Dakota Rabbitt
Kinda funny. Wildly crass. Kinda surprised my mom gave this book to me.
Bridget
Hilarious, awesome, and perfect portrayal of humans being shitty and it being hilarious. Great commentary on the human condition.
Melanie Cybriwsky
Not my favorite Sedaris book but still enjoyable. His essays at the end are worth reading for sure.
Nicole
I am just a sucker for David Sedaris. Love him!
Jeffrey
I laughed a couple of times. Not the best from David Sedaris.
Liz
Yeah, he's a good writer, but I don't think I'll read any more of his books, because he's also disturbed to the point of being disturbing.
Melissa
David Sedaris gets better with every book. This was his first book, so... I’ll just say that I was underwhelmed.
Joomi Park
Not the best of Sedaris but also not the worst. Each story and essay took me to such a variety of places.
Anne
Can’t make up my mind about this guy. I find him wickedly funny...and not funny at all. I guess I must like him, cause I keep going back.
Justin
Good. I prefer his other collections. I also prefer his essays to his stories.
Mad
So many offensive things, but I keep coming back to Sedaris because of the stories about his mother. I can't help myself.
Amy
Listened on audiobook- a few funny parts but nowhere near as funny as the last one I read
Molly Walker
*3.5 stars*

Have I mentioned recently that David Sedaris is a national treasure? No? DAVID SEDARIS IS A NATIONAL TREASURE.
Julie_ian_curtis
Read most of this already. Maybe appears in other collections?
Meagan
3.5 stars. Not as polished as his more recent material but I still recommend listening.
Antonina Deverue
This was okay. A lot of the stories I felt like i heard already in the other books.
Alex
This is the first Sedaris book that I've read that wasn't just a collection of essays; it's more than half composed of short stories. It's also the first book that he published, so that has to be part of it. Somehow I failed to miss that it was divided between "stories" and "essays" in the contents, and quickly found myself confused because Sedaris doesn't have a bitter ex-wife or a double amputee daughter. To my knowledge.

The stories are a strange mix and, as far as I can tell, were all bar one This is the first Sedaris book that I've read that wasn't just a collection of essays; it's more than half composed of short stories. It's also the first book that he published, so that has to be part of it. Somehow I failed to miss that it was divided between "stories" and "essays" in the contents, and quickly found myself confused because Sedaris doesn't have a bitter ex-wife or a double amputee daughter. To my knowledge.

The stories are a strange mix and, as far as I can tell, were all bar one written for this book. The first, about an illicit affair with Mike Tyson that ends in bitter recriminations, is simply bizarre. They continue like this, many of them featuring moments of beauty but they're more often weird than they are meaningful. The man knows how to write an ending to a short story regardless of all that's come before.

One particular story of note is "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter Vol. 3, No. 2", which is narratively fairly boring but hilarious in its constant italicisation of the homophobia that Glen feels he has been subjected to, along with this gem of a passage:

I urge all my readers to BOYCOTT DAVE'S KWIK STOP. I urge you to phone Drew Pierson anytime day or night and tell him you dreamt you were sitting on his face. Drew Pierson's home (ophobic) telephone number is 787-5008. Call him and raise your voice against homophobia!
"Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!" is similarly at least partially inspired, perfectly capturing the manic nature of unhinged Christmas letters. Unfortunately the central conceit doesn't really mesh with the grand reveal; for the form this story is presented in, the pre-amble doesn't make much sense. Then again, I've never been the victim of lengthy Christmas missives: it's entirely possible they're designed to tell you exactly what you (the fictional intended audience, in this case) already know. With exclamation marks.

The last part of the book is where Sedaris would find his true calling: non-fiction essays about banal or petty stuff that has happened to him. These four pieces, not allocated any real chronological order (the first story mentions Hugh without suggesting in the slightest who he might actually be), are fairly well spot on. They capture Sedaris before he has any real success, before any of his stories are tinted by experiences only lived by published authors. Their truth to life, their surreality without apparent embellishment, are indicative of the delight that Sedaris will provoke in later volumes.

Barrel Fever closes out with the famous SantaLand, the essay which brought Sedaris to national attention. Sedaris speaks of an experience that he was within his rights to loath and makes it into something positive. While the story ostensibly drips with justifiable misanthropy, Sedaris is able to acknowledge that jobs are meant to be done well, even if he doesn't completely fit within the guidelines in his own job performance.

Overall Barrel Fever is more interesting as a hint of what is to come than it is as its own collection of short pieces. Flashes of brilliance are overshadowed by zaniness that could have been pared to something more representative of reality, but the book itself is short enough that you will never have time to regret the experience.
Ethan Moos
When I last encountered David Sedaris I was overwhelmingly disappointed, but I didn’t let that sully my opinion of him as a writer or let it damage his reputation in my mind.
 
I think that decision worked out for the best, because I am pleased to write that I thoroughly enjoyed Barrel Fever, David Sedaris’ first book. While it certainly has its flaws, it also has many gems of writing that one can simply not ignore.
 
Barrel Fever is primarily comprised of short stories that are deeply depressing, a When I last encountered David Sedaris I was overwhelmingly disappointed, but I didn’t let that sully my opinion of him as a writer or let it damage his reputation in my mind.
 
I think that decision worked out for the best, because I am pleased to write that I thoroughly enjoyed Barrel Fever, David Sedaris’ first book. While it certainly has its flaws, it also has many gems of writing that one can simply not ignore.
 
Barrel Fever is primarily comprised of short stories that are deeply depressing, and occasionally borderline disturbing. He seems to have a knack for writing about sick, dark, reprehensible people. The snobby, condescending, but truly ignorant girl in the short story “After Malison” was one of the most unlikable, annoying characters I’ve ever read about. In most cases this would be a bad thing; an unlikable character makes the story difficult to get invested in and to progress in, but the whole point of most of the stories is to have unlikable characters in the lead. This is a double-edged sword of sorts, while the reader understands the author’s intent that doesn’t necessarily mean the story is easier to enjoy. “The Last You’ll Hear From Me” best exemplifies this. A girl commits suicide out of spite.
 
This isn’t always the case, however. In “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!” Mrs. Dunbar is one of the most disgusting characters in the whole anthology, but I was greatly entertained by the mock Christmas newsletter (until the ending, then I was just plain uncomfortable). “Why would I, as certain people have been suggesting, want to murder my own grandchild?” Wow, didn’t see that coming, but I probably should have.
 
“Glen’s Homophobia Newsletter Vol. 3, No. 2,” also gives Sedaris a depth and two sidedness that I very much appreciate. Sedaris often talks about his life as a gay man, but in this story, Glen, who is also a gay man, labels unwelcome flirting with a straight man as homophobia, he calls his gay ex-boyfriend homophobic, and so on and so forth. It was certainly a highlight of the short stories. Others are “Parade,” “We Get Along,” and “Don’s Story.” Really, none of them are what I’d call bad or even mediocre.
 
The other part of the book is made up of essays, and that tail end of the book is dominated by the masterpiece “SantaLand Dairies.” The other three essays fade away, and you are left with just the splendor of “SantaLand Dairies.” It is one of the funniest things I have ever ingested. Everything about it is spot on. It’s about a time when Sedaris took a job as an elf in SantaLand for the holiday season at Macy’s in New York City. It’s well worth reading with or without the rest of Barrel Fever.
 
If you like David Sedaris, then chances are you’ll enjoy Barrel Fever. The short stories are superior to those in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, and “SantaLand Dairies” gives the book a dim glow of brilliance.    
 
Robert
This one caught my eye in a used book store. Having read David Sedaris before(Let's explore diabetes with owls) this wasn't a hard choice. I wasn't aware this was his first book and that it was a mix of stories and essay's(previously just read his essays). The first part of the book is fictional stories which at first were difficult to grab onto. I did like "We get along" and "Don's Story" as far as his fictional work. When it hit's his essay's is where David's talent and wit show through the be This one caught my eye in a used book store. Having read David Sedaris before(Let's explore diabetes with owls) this wasn't a hard choice. I wasn't aware this was his first book and that it was a mix of stories and essay's(previously just read his essays). The first part of the book is fictional stories which at first were difficult to grab onto. I did like "We get along" and "Don's Story" as far as his fictional work. When it hit's his essay's is where David's talent and wit show through the best. It's disappointing that there are only four essays. If you already read David's work you may be a little disappointed at first but it's still worth checking out.
Robert Hudder
Some stories, some essays, some fun. I couldn't escape David's voice since I heard his voice reading one time. In fact, i think it was the last essay in this book on being an Elf. That family must have been some funny family or some painful family. Both can be true.

With the wry observations and candid style willing to skewer himself and everyone else's ridiculosity, it makes for an interesting read. How much is truth and how much is just observation? Regardless, by turns infuriating and funny.
Mandy
David Sedaris is easily one of my favorite authors. His subtle humor and quirky perspective always put me in a great mood. Whenever I’m looking for something I know I’ll enjoy, Sedaris tends to be my go-to author. I frequently imagine what it would be like to be Sedaris’ editor and wonder if it would take twice as long to read his writing because I’d be laughing so much.

Like Sedaris’ other books, Barrel Fever isn’t a story in itself, but rather a collection of stories. The book is divided into t David Sedaris is easily one of my favorite authors. His subtle humor and quirky perspective always put me in a great mood. Whenever I’m looking for something I know I’ll enjoy, Sedaris tends to be my go-to author. I frequently imagine what it would be like to be Sedaris’ editor and wonder if it would take twice as long to read his writing because I’d be laughing so much.

Like Sedaris’ other books, Barrel Fever isn’t a story in itself, but rather a collection of stories. The book is divided into two sections: twelve short fictional stories and four autobiographical essays. But unlike most of Sedaris’ other books, I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as I enjoyed his other works.

I can honestly say that if Barrel Fever was the first Sedaris book I’d picked up, I’m not sure I would have picked up another. Thankfully that was not the case. This is Sedaris’ first book and while it includes “SantaLand Diaries,” the personal essay he read on NPR in 1992 that sparked his popularity, it’s definitely not his best collection. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of his personal stories, but the fictional stories here just didn’t resonate with me and weren’t as humorous. They seemed a little too bizarre and over the top, even for Sedaris. His writing is not nearly as honed and he obviously hasn’t found his personal style and voice just yet.

If you’re a Sedaris fan like me and want to be sure you’ve read all his books, don’t let me stop you, but be forewarned. But if you’ve never read Sedaris before, pick up another book (my favorite is Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim) and see why I fell in love with his writing in the first place.

Barrel Fever was published in 1994 by Little, Brown.
J.j.
I'd rather eat KY jelly tacos than tackle another book by this essayist many, including erudite college colleagues, consider original & brilliant. Getting through the less than 200 pages was like Gouda traversing an octogenarian's colon and, in the midst of the madness, I grabbed for a sharp object to puncture my eye, giving me an excuse not to finish. Unfortunately my contacts had already been taken out and the nearest available letter opener dislodged the lens in my glasses sending me stum I'd rather eat KY jelly tacos than tackle another book by this essayist many, including erudite college colleagues, consider original & brilliant. Getting through the less than 200 pages was like Gouda traversing an octogenarian's colon and, in the midst of the madness, I grabbed for a sharp object to puncture my eye, giving me an excuse not to finish. Unfortunately my contacts had already been taken out and the nearest available letter opener dislodged the lens in my glasses sending me stumbling into the kitchen and toward the cluster of cleaning supplies on the counter. Having been relocated from under the sink to make room for the plumber, the same one who loaned me this paperback, the poisons were positioned to help my self offing. Reeling from the self inflicted eye poke, my elbow knocked over Ajax onto the linoleum floor. My wife caught my sweaty slump kneeling to clean up the spillage and reached around me to the space beneath the garbage disposal where the fly swatter was still stored. The idea of stuffing these pages into the grinding blades of the disposal flashed as my revenge on the blue collar lender before the swat of the green plastic bug killer reddened my bent over bare ass. It was still less painful than trudging through these essays and stories but so would having the handle of the pest deterrent shoved up my unlubricated anus. Spotted while on my hands and knees was an off kilter breakfast table, the wobble in it laid to rest with the shoving of "Barrel Fever" underneath one of the wooden legs. It finally found a better usefulness than the slot of the plumber's butt crack to where it would have otherwise been returned.
MacK
David Sedaris’ writing has a special quality. I’ve yet to meet a person who has read his work or heard one of his stories who also managed to keep a straight face. I’ve gone through his writing with immigrants from Somalia, Costa Rica and Russia and they’ve laughed and smiled and seen parts of themselves throughout the writing.

Most of Sedaris’ stories display that special quality that starts a story down one path, travels down quirky back alleys and unites everything together in an impressive p David Sedaris’ writing has a special quality. I’ve yet to meet a person who has read his work or heard one of his stories who also managed to keep a straight face. I’ve gone through his writing with immigrants from Somalia, Costa Rica and Russia and they’ve laughed and smiled and seen parts of themselves throughout the writing.

Most of Sedaris’ stories display that special quality that starts a story down one path, travels down quirky back alleys and unites everything together in an impressive package of creativity, wit and universality. There are several pieces in Barrel Fever that fit that bill, particularly the piece on Sedaris’ young brother (the Rooster) and the titular story that offers a sweet and sour reflection on relationships, and in hearing the author and his equally talented sister read the stories you can truly appreciate the people and places who make these stories such fun.

But there’s an awkward flatness to many of Barrel Fever’s stories and essays. Sedaris’ reflects on the day-to-day minutiae of his life with the clarity of a passionate diarist, but integrating these personal moments into broader stories does not result in the same clever unification of theme and purpose that his best stories do. Things feel more like disjointed puzzle pieces than a grand unified theory of comic observations and leave the book lagging behind pieces like Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day. Still, the sheer chance to catch Sedaris’ special quality in a piece of writing makes Barrel Fever like all his other books well worth your time and attention.
Beth
Read this ONLY for The Santaland Diaries, which is hilarious. I was disappointed in the rest of this book. Having enjoyed Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family, I have been picking up Sedaris' other books. I believe this one is his earliest, and that seems to be the problem. He is still finding his voice in this one. Any fan of Sedaris would agree that his stength is in the humorous personal essay, drawn from what can reasonably be considered his own personal experience. The 4 essays at t Read this ONLY for The Santaland Diaries, which is hilarious. I was disappointed in the rest of this book. Having enjoyed Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family, I have been picking up Sedaris' other books. I believe this one is his earliest, and that seems to be the problem. He is still finding his voice in this one. Any fan of Sedaris would agree that his stength is in the humorous personal essay, drawn from what can reasonably be considered his own personal experience. The 4 essays at the end of this book, including The Santaland Diaries, are in this vein. The stories however, are just the opposite. They are obviously not written from the point of view of the Sedaris we know. Rather, these first person narrators are complete fabrications. Often, they are not believeable or endearing. Sedaris can have a bit of a mean streak, but some of these narrators are truly mean-spirited. These stories are not what I've come to expect from Sedaris' other work, and frankly, they are not very good by comparison. I can imagine the feedback he got after publication--"stick with the essays, those really work. The stories, not so much." The true fan may enjoy seeing the evolution of his style, but I couldn't stomach reading more than the first several stories. I skipped to the end and read all the essays, though.
John Hanson
I read this book because Les Edgerton wrote it's the funniest book he's ever read. I like Les a lot. Les is a great writing advocate and teaches MFA courses at Vermont, or did until they discovered he likes this book. */end witty satire*

I think the taste differences have to do with style of sentence construction. Sedaris writes active sentences -- the build content with fairly random effect. The opposite is the more standard subordinate style of writing sentences and paragraphs. These employ fra I read this book because Les Edgerton wrote it's the funniest book he's ever read. I like Les a lot. Les is a great writing advocate and teaches MFA courses at Vermont, or did until they discovered he likes this book. */end witty satire*

I think the taste differences have to do with style of sentence construction. Sedaris writes active sentences -- the build content with fairly random effect. The opposite is the more standard subordinate style of writing sentences and paragraphs. These employ fragments to build up to a point and conclude at the end. *Read Stanley Fish's "How To Write A Sentence." Some people enjoy the active style, and I think Les must be one of those readers. I do not enjoy it. Not at all. These stories left me feeling empty. It felt like reading something a middle-schooler might write. Yes, some of is was funny, at least clever, but overall the word vapid comes to mind, self-centeredness does too, and shallow. Nothing but a Pitty Ting!

I did enjoy a few entries. "After Malison" and "Barrel Fever" felt good. Diary Of A Smoker was good but only three pages long.

I read because I write, and I wish to write better. I do highly recommend this book for wannabe writers. It is a fine collection of active constructs, and they do have their place. Just not a whole freaking book.
Adalira Morningstar
I placed this book on hold at our local library over a year ago and heard nothing. When I asked about it, the librarian looked perplexed and said, "Huh, would you look at that? I have no idea where it is. Check back some other time." I eventually had to convince them to get the book from another library's system for me. My library doesn't actually offer inter-library loans so this was a bit like convincing a stranger to lend me money, but I did it! I got my hands on this book! And considering th I placed this book on hold at our local library over a year ago and heard nothing. When I asked about it, the librarian looked perplexed and said, "Huh, would you look at that? I have no idea where it is. Check back some other time." I eventually had to convince them to get the book from another library's system for me. My library doesn't actually offer inter-library loans so this was a bit like convincing a stranger to lend me money, but I did it! I got my hands on this book! And considering the hoops I had to jump through, I really hoped this book was worth it.

I consider David Sedaris to be one of my favorite writers. In fact, I'm kind of in awe of the whole Sedaris family because how does something that amazing even exist? Sadly, I just didn't really connect with this book in the way I hoped I would. Did it make me laugh? Sure, I laughed at several points. Did I enjoy reading it? Definitely! Was it everything I hoped for? No.

Sedaris really shines with his essays, and that's really noticeable with this one. The short stories are just kind of amusing - not enough to laugh, but maybe enough to go, "Hmmm, cute." If you read one essay from this book, it should be Santaland Diaries but I won't hold it against you if you skip the first half of this one to get to the good stuff.
Dugan Maynard
While Sedaris usually has a fair amount of mania running through his books, it's usually pretty lighthearted and fun as is the case in Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Naked. However, this one seems to tread more into I-wouldn't-want-to-leave-my-kids-alone-with-this-guy territory. Barrel Fever is a collection of short stories and each is told from an interesting perspective-- my personal favourite being in the form of a family's holiday newsletter, which gets progressively darker, while still attempt While Sedaris usually has a fair amount of mania running through his books, it's usually pretty lighthearted and fun as is the case in Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Naked. However, this one seems to tread more into I-wouldn't-want-to-leave-my-kids-alone-with-this-guy territory. Barrel Fever is a collection of short stories and each is told from an interesting perspective-- my personal favourite being in the form of a family's holiday newsletter, which gets progressively darker, while still attempting to maintain an upbeat feeling through the use of excessive exclamation points.

An okay read, but I much prefer Sedaris's other work. Fans of this book might also enjoy Pastoralia, or The Braindead Megaphone: Essays by George Saunders
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