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Crazy/ Beautiful

Two visiting authors unearth the beauty and humor in life's insanity


What do author Sylvia Nasar and National Public Radio commentator David Sedaris have in common? Well, they're both flying to the Lou this week to read from their books, and they're both really funny.

Wait a minute -- what's so funny about Nasar? In her book A Beautiful Mind, Nasar recounts the story of mathematician John Forbes Nash, who had the gene that confers both brilliance and insanity. As Nash was busy disgorging proofs and cutting new paths in economic theory, his grip on earthly reality began to slip.

After Nash became known as the mad phantom of Princeton University, he left cryptic, paranoid messages on classroom blackboards such as "Mao Tse-tung's bar mitzvah was 13 years, 13 months and 13 days after Brezhnev's circumcision."

"At some point," writes Nasar, "Nash turned down a coveted University of Chicago professorship, saying he was slated to become emperor of Antarctica."

Tragic, yes, but not entirely without humor.

For Sedaris, of course, humor is his sine qua non. His classic 1996 radio program The Santaland Diaries is a tremendously funny behind-the-scenes look at the Macy's Christmas display, at which children sit on Santa's lap for pictures. The diminutive Sedaris found work as an elf and endured demeaning training, obnoxious parents and the vomit of the young. He went on to write the autobiographical and fictional stories collected in Barrel Fever, Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day. In the title story of Naked, Sedaris visits a nudist colony for the first time. "In May they held ... a chili cook-off and something called 'Wild West horseback riding,'" he writes. "It is inhumane to place a nudist on horseback the day after a chili cook-off."

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