Book Review: Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris

In 2006, comedian/actor/playwright/cupcake and cheeseball entrepreneur Amy Sedaris released her how-to hospitality book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. This unexpected career shift fit her perfectly. It provided her a showcase for her many interests outside of public knowledge in a comedic framework that still managed to inform the reader of interesting and easily executable ideas. Once again, with her I Like You, Wigfield, and Strangers with Candy collaborator/co-writer Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris has produced another brightly colored, humorous how-to book called Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People. The first thing you need to know is that this isn't a standard how-to book. Only the recipes in the book feature full instructions, and even those are written in shorthand. Simple Times is a craft how-to book for people who already know how to craft and want new ideas.

The book opens in similar fashion to I Like You. Amy crafts a letter to the reader to set their expectations for the book. She then introduces two new collaborators: Jean and Gene Woodchuck--an elderly married couple with a history of domestic violence and abuse--who will pop up throughout the book with more in-depth crafting advice. The book dives straight into visual content, foregoing the chapter introductions that were such a joy to read in I Like You until about a third of the way into the book. This isn't a bad thing. It, again, sets up proper expectations for the book. If you need exact instructions on how to paint a shepherd and his flock in a sunny field onto a sextet of matchbook boxes, this isn't the book for you.

There are certain crafty items that haunt the book with no explanation, instruction, or reason other than a recurring visual motif. For example, someone in Amy Sedaris' gigantic collaborative team for the book has a collection of googly-eyed nuts. Peanuts, acorns, walnuts--anything with a hard shell that can survive an onslaught of hot-glue. There is a brief mention in the "Shut-Ins" chapter about making them, but--again--no instructions. To repeat the chorus, if you need exact instructions on how to hot glue googly eyes to peanut shells and arrange them in a large shoebox built up to look like a riverboat or theater, this isn't the book for you. Another, sadder visual motif is the mouse death house (not to kill the creature, but to set the proper mood for its final days), which is hilarious in context but horrifying to think about when the gag wears off.

Unlike I Like You, the draw here is the photography. Since the book rarely offers detailed instructions, you need the big bright visuals to guide you on your way. Do you want to make the craft stick cold trivet? It's a good thing the photo is brightly lit, large, and easy to see construction details on. Need inspiration for a Halloween costume? Steal a page for Amy Sedaris and go as Jesus, an Indian, a lusty Greek woman, or a pock-marked rebellious teenager-wannabe. Want some extra fun in the bedroom? There is an entire chapter devoted to pleasing your lover with beautifully framed photographs of Amy and Paul...well, you get the picture.

In interviews, Amy has suggested this book is great for inexperienced crafters, as the quality of the product is unintimidating. Most of the projects are. It's just, if you haven't crafted before, do you want to take your inspiration from a book that suggests rusty nail wind chimes and sausage houses as easy projects? Or do you want to start with crafts you find interesting and branch out to the more esoteric later?

Where I would recommend I Like You to anyone with the need to invite over company or socialize with others, Simple Times is best doled out to a friend or relative with a good sense of humor and crafting experience. I walked away from the book with a good forty ideas that I can extrapolate further to whole new product lines for craft shows and online sales. If you're a fan of Amy Sedaris who doesn't craft, you should really browse through the book in the store before committing to the purchase. Or just buy it and use it as a conversation starter at parties. It's a quick read with big text and lots of pictures, so you can feel smarter about yourself real easy if you need the self-esteem boost.

And whatever you do, don't think of the mouse death house.