In his eighth collection of humorous essays, David Sedaris celebrates all that is a little “off” in life, from the come-ons and exclamations of Lonely Planet’s phrase books (“That is amazing/weird/wild!”) to the difficulties of being an American living abroad in the Bush years. My favorite observations in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (Little, Brown, $27) involve the racial awkwardness occurring both before and after the elections of President Obama (turns out we may have a little work to do on the whole racism thing yet). Your favorite moments may be Sedaris’s uncomfortable memories of buying condoms in bulk at Costco, or when his voice morphs into that of a self-righteous suburbanite in one of the featured short stories. Whether or not you’re already familiar with Sedaris’s inimitable voice, you’ll find his take on modern life delightful.
Neil Gaiman’s knack for making the impossible seem all too probable makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Wm. Morrow, $25.99), his first adult novel since 2005’s Anansi Boys, worth waiting for. Set in a British village, it features a children’s game that opens a Pandora’s Box of primal horrors in the town. Gaiman tends to focus on the dangerous, often gross, world of grown-ups that children sense they’re approaching, and his vivid narrative makes you remember every time you’ve experienced a prickle of the skin and wondered what wicked thing was hovering near.