Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002)
Humorist David Sedaris has now published seven collections of autobiographical essays, and “clearly we love the guy,” said Marion Winik in Newsday. The first six of those books have sold more than 10 million copies, and on or about Christmas Day each year, NPR still broadcasts his 1992 reading of “Santaland Diaries.” So is this 500-page collection of diary entries “one too many trips to the well?” Happily, no. Though the recollections he shares include material that ended up in earlier essays, they “add up to something we’ve never gotten before”: a “big, juicy” narrative arc that tells us who Sedaris was before success arrived, and how life has played out since.
Reading about Sedaris’ early days is almost therapeutic, said Patton Oswalt in The New York Times. “It’s helpful to see that a voice as original and hilarious as his was put through the same Struggle and Starve meat grinder that most of us go through.” In his itinerant 20s, the Raleigh, N.C., native apparently did stints as a fruit picker and construction worker, drank too much, dabbled in drugs, and ate Cream of Wheat for dinner to save money. He avoids ever declaring his sexual orientation outright, though in one ominous 1981 entry he mentions hearing a radio report about “a cancer that strikes only homosexual men.” Once Sedaris settles into his vocation as a writerraconteur, the diary gradually stops being an outlet for frustrations and becomes a testing ground. The observations he shares about a Chicago IHOP “feel like tracks off an early EP of a beloved band.”
Sedaris’ loose approach to truth “makes me crazy,” said Laurie Hertzel in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has always presented exaggerated anecdotes as straight memoir, and “hardly anyone seems to care.” Here, he admittedly altered some diary entries when he returned to them. So, did he really write this pithily back in 1977? Did he fabricate any of these oddball characters? We’ll never know. But Sedaris makes us laugh, and this time, that’s enough, even for me. “This book is flat out mesmerizing.”