I got this book as an audiobook, and believe it is Sedaris’ best collection. I’ve also read DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM, and at least another one, but I can’t remember which one. I’ve also heard quite a few of his NPR readings and interview. This one was more consistently funny than DRESS YOUR FAMILY, and while it didn’t contain his amazingly hilarious story “The Youth in Asia” it had some good gems.
In this collection, he deals primarily with his life in France, his travels (including a section on living in Japan, from which comes the title of the book) and he devotes a significant portion to his attempts to quit smoking.
Sedaris has a somewhat nasal voice, which doesn’t seem to detract from the delivery of his self-deprecating observations. In fact, he proves my rule that humorous memoirs are best as audiobooks read aloud by the author. I read the above mentioned memoir myself, and found it kind of meh. With this one, I laughed so hard that tears poured out of my eyes and I gasped for breath. (The section about the pitfalls of using the “stadium buddy”.) I don’t care that much for essays that try to delve into some deeper meaning (I didn’t enjoy the story about buying the skeleton) but a book that can make me laugh out loud more than once is rarer than jewels.
Another nice thing about this audiobook is that the chapters are rather short, so it was easy to start and stop without losing the thread. Another good thing about this audiobook is that it’s very well produced. Sound effects and musical clips added fantastic texture without being overbearing. I especially liked the sounds of cigarettes being lit and sucked on in the section about him trying to quit smoking.
Considering where he often appears, I think it’s not a stretch to say this book will appeal to fans of NPR. Sedaris does not have as fucked up a childhood as Augusten Burroughs or Carrie Fisher, and he’s not quite as whiny either, but he has a similar level of self-deprecating introspection.