Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People

Image of Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People
Release Date: 
November 1, 2010
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“It’s often been said that ugly people craft and attractive people have sex,” writes Amy Sedaris in the introduction to her new book Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.

And because Sedaris is so funny, sharing as many telling quotes as possible in this review will give you a taste of her wacky hilarity.

Sedaris continues, “This book is not going to dispel that ridiculous fact. Rather, it will accept the well-documented, scientifically sound research done on the subject and move on, because regardless of how you look, this book is not here to judge, it is about the joy of crafting. . . .

“It’s natural for humans to suppress urges, for when our desires are left unchecked they lead to broken relationships, prison time, and forest fires. But there is one urge that should always be encouraged to blossom—the creative urge! Yes, it is healthy to want to make things, but that desire without instruction for crafting can lead to foreclosure, incest, and forest fires. Too often instruction for crafting is gutter-learned. Convoluted half-baked lessons picked up from street corners, back alleys, and scouting. Simple Times will provide crafters with the proper guidance, much like a parole officer. But this book is much more than a supervisor for crafting offenders; hopefully it will also inspire you, helping to spark or trigger new creative thoughts leading to a vast array of hastily constructed obscure d’arts.”

In this statement Sedaris sets forth her central theme, or meme, to be more precise. Simple Times is less a crafting book than it is a parody of one. And yet, that classification is just too simple.

In recent years we have seen many parodies. Of Martha Stewart. Of Rachel Ray. And while each presents a large and persistent target for parody, Sedaris, in Simple Times and in her previous work I Like You: Entertaining Under the Influence, transcends the genre with a book that at once celebrates and parodies its topic. Where I Like You presented a book of recipes and décor tips in which the photographed results seemed always to have on them just one fingerprint too many to classify them as edible, Simple Times takes us a step beyond that, presenting us with an entire parallel universe made from gingham, felt, tinfoil, and popsicle sticks.

In asking the question “Is crafting right for me?” Sedaris writes: “The following characteristics are essential for the successful crafter. Firstly, every crafter must possess a contortionist-like dexterity or monkey-hands, and strong agile fingers capable of bending thick wire into tiny intricate shapes, as well as a superhuman ability to clutch. Secondly, superior hand-eye coordination is critical. All crafters must excel at precise high-velocity hand movements not unlike the jaws of a snapping turtle or a lizard’s tongue, if that lizard could decoupage with the same ability he uses to catch flies.”

Simple Times is a dizzying Where’s Waldo of a book. Each page is filled with photographs and text so over-brimming with equal parts visual humor and what seem to be actual crafting tips—(when it comes to what glue to use for which material, just remember that it’s “tacky with Furry, Gummy with Gritty, Paste with Prickly, and always Gloppy with Sandy”)—that the reader is tempted to charge ahead to see what Sedaris will come up with next.

We don’t want to miss anything in this hilarious book. So much so that when, on page 35 the author tells us to turn to page 113 to see the Popsicle stick trivet, we hurry to do so and are rewarded with the guffaw-inducing picture of a Russel Wright styled concoction of Popsicle sticks and wooden beads—and then we hurry back to page 35 to keep on reading.

What conclusions can be drawn from having read Simple Times have to do with author Sedaris herself. First, she is a fan of the googly-eye. Not since “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” have there been so many googly-eyes gathered in any one place: on acorns, on Popsicle sticks, of course, as well as on clam shells, peanuts, rocks and cookies.

Second, it must be concluded that Amy Sedaris is one of those people about whom Woody Allen commented that are funny from their bones outward. She appears in the book in many guises, from the leotarded lady who teaches us the importance of stretching before crafting, to Old Bald Jim, who shares her fudge recipe with us, to the lady who patiently attempts to teach us the art of “fornicrafting,” with the help of her gentleman friend. But no matter who she portrays from page to page, picture to picture, she’s funny.

Funny is to Sedaris what breathing is to the rest of us. And Simple Times stands as proud testament to that.

Best perhaps to close with a prayer, the Crafter’s Prayer, of course: “Dear Lord, Please give us the strength to accept the things we have made. The courage to not take credit for what we have not—and the wisdom to know the difference. My name is [Blank] and I am a crafter.”