Amy Sedaris usually adores having friends over for homemade blue cheese balls or mushroom casserole. But after having spent weeks on a 20-city tour flacking her cheeky new book on entertaining, she is partied out.
Sedaris toiled for a year over what may be the world's first R-rated book on entertaining. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence is part entertaining/cooking/craft/lifestyle guide and part tour de force written by a woman who cut her teeth at Chicago's Second City comedy troupe. She is also the younger sister of essayist David Sedaris, the first to parlay the family's wicked sense of humor into fame and fortune.
But beneath the funny, Amy Sedaris has a message. She writes in the introduction: "This colorfully illustrated book (see pictures) is my attempt to share with you something I take very seriously: entertaining in my home, my style. It may not be the proper way, or the most traditional, or even legal, but it works for me."
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There are countless entertaining books about doing it right, with elaborate table settings and fancy menus. This book is about just doing it. Sedaris, 45 (and single, except for her imaginary boyfriend, Ricky), bids to be the poster child for hospitality on the wild side. Sheet cakes are (amateurishly) decorated: "Dad Come Home" in chocolate sprinkles; a coconut-dusted butterfly for a coming-out party. Some people might eagerly emulate Sedaris' parties: Hang coats over the bathtub, set up the bar on an ironing board. Others will be offended by her tips on removing urine from mattresses and using Pez dispensers to serve mood-altering drugs.
Under no circumstances should these people put this book on their wish lists. Prudish types, and those who found the Borat movie gross, definitely should skip the chapter titled "Blind Date."
I Like You (Warner Books, $28) chronicles the entertaining repertoire of someone who genuinely enjoys getting people together for a good time, virtually anytime, for any pretext. Among Sedaris' friends are cool people (actor Sarah Jessica Parker and designer Todd Oldham). She is a regular on Letterman. The book is filled with kitschy photographs taken in her cluttered kitchen and dining room and snapshots of the author dressed in black Greek-style glitter-trimmed dresses and '50s hostess aprons. The author has a side business selling her homemade cupcakes and cheese balls to neighborhood delis.
From bizarre to tacky
Sedaris was born in upstate New York but grew up in Raleigh, N.C., where her non-Greek mother perfected the art of Greek cooking to please her Greek husband. "Roast beef on Sundays and fried fish on Friday," recalls Sedaris, who says she and her five brothers and sisters loved to play cocktail party on mornings after her parents' Saturday night bashes. "Those were my first steps in hospitality," she says.
A whole chapter on entertaining the elderly - in large-print type - advises: Turn up the heat, turn down the music, serve a bland meal about 4 p.m. and thread some needles for them to take home. "With all the special attention needed, one might ask, why entertain the elderly?" she inquires, then answers: Because "soon you will be in their comfort shoes, and wouldn't it be nice to be invited to a party?"
Although many of her ideas are bizarre (luncheon meat layered into a 2-foot tower for the buffet) and tacky (crafting with "dung"-colored pantyhose), others are downright raunchy and best not chronicled in a family newspaper. This might not be the perfect holiday present for your grandmother.
But right alongside is ingenious, good-natured advice about being a good guest: Don't arrive early, don't bring extra people and don't put wads of gum in the ashtrays. Plus hostess gift ideas: stamps or a bottle of wine, but no flavored coffees.
On meeting Martha
Sedaris says she was not keen on getting together with Martha Stewart, whose parties are known for perfection, but could not turn down an invitation to appear on the nationally syndicated Martha Stewart Show to plug the book.
"I am generally not open to meeting new cooks," Sedaris says. "I like the ladies from the past like Fannie Farmer and Betty Crocker." She dutifully yukked it up as Martha exhibited a perfect Lady Baltimore cake baked from a Sedaris recipe. Martha said she preferred it served with hot fudge or raspberry ice cream; Sedaris' choice was a big tumbler of Scotch.
"I loved doing Martha's show, and I loved seeing how big her crew is and how big her kitchen is," Sedaris says. "But she did have a panty line."
An Amy Sedaris sampler
* "It's always a good idea to stock your neighbor's apartment with the basics (alcohol, ice, corn chips. . .) so when you run out at three o'clock in the morning, you know whose door to knock on."
* "Try filling your medicine cabinet with marbles. Nothing announces a nosy partygoer more successfully than an avalanche of marbles striking a porcelain sink."
* "Pre-crack all your liquor bottles. No one wants to be the first, especially at a wake."
* "Give the party a strict time span and if it's not going well, at least you know when it will be over."
* "Have toilet paper."
Sunday in Latitudes
I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence is just one of the recommendations you'll find in our holiday gift guide. For more book suggestions - as well as gifts for lovers of travel, art and music - don't miss Sunday's St. Petersburg Times.