In Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) we witnessed David Sedaris blossom from a struggling human (not just writer) into a full-fledged publishing phenomenon, a narrative his husband Hugh labels “David Copperfield Sedaris.” Now in his 60s, and among the most popular and successful writers in the world, he’s no longer the struggling artist, or a struggling anything. Except maybe struggling to find the right word; Sedaris is someone who knows how and when to use the appropriate adjective to devastating effect.
A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020), the second collection of journals, contains roughly eighteen years of previously unpublished material that picks up right where its predecessor left off. Here he documents roughly two decades of adventures as a public figure and everything that comes with the transformation, particularly mice, trash, and travel. On that last bit Sedaris is especially generous with his recollections as he travels between a post-911 world to that of Covid-19.
For fans, this is essentially a behind-the-scenes look at his development and maturation as a best-selling humorist following 2000’s Me Talk Pretty One Day to more recent works like 2013’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and 2018’s Calypso. His growing coziness with success and fame is also in evidence, his dependence on the latter most felt when travel restrictions and quarantines during the pandemic made it impossible for him to interact with fans:
“What I loved was the attention. How had I never realized the extent to which it sustained me? Without an audience, I exhausted poor Hugh and my family. Look, I’m crossing the room! I’ve taken my jacket off! Why aren’t you applauding?”
When Sedaris quips “I follow the news quite closely, as a matter of fact, though you wouldn’t know it from reading this book” he’s being a little disingenuous, which may have been the point given how drone and, frankly, disappointing these political vignettes are. What does it say about our expectations when even one of the world’s sassiest wordsmiths can barely muster up saltier critiques than tired talking points?
In 2014 an American entomologist would co-name a beetle after him (and Charles Darwin) with Darwinilus sedarisi, a maggot-eating predator, while in England, where he’d earned a reputation for cleaning up litter, a garbage truck would be named in his honor: Pig Pen Sedaris. While few are lucky enough to earn even a single such distinction, Sedaris wonders, after seeing another trash truck without his name, “Can’t I be on everything?”
In Theft By Finding Sedaris acknowledged self-editing entries, in his view, “when the writing was clunky and uninviting.” Here that admission is shortened to “slightly when they were unclear”, a distinction worth pointing out. The first volume culled from sources that were likely never meant to be seen, let alone scrutinized.
But this volume also has all the hallmarks of an author fully aware of his audience, regardless of whether or not they’d ever see what he’d written. Sedaris admits this. “If a number of these entries seem overproduced, it’s because they are.” That, and he’s just a better writer now.
And it’s here where the lines between “diary” and “notebook” start to blur. Are we still reading personal, private diary entries? Or is this material that’s been left on the author’s cutting room floor, dusted off and given new life in publication? Pretty much all of Sedaris’ career is, by design, an ongoing memoir meant for public consumption channeling the reality he’s experienced through the lens he’s chosen to document them with.
Some have questioned how “real” many of Sedaris’ stories are, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Is anyone really reading a David Sedaris essay for historical accuracy? Is there even such a thing as emotional accuracy? After all, as the saying goes, “all stories are real stories.”
This is evident when he’s writing about his family, of which there are several instances here. Apart from endless shopping trips with his actress sister Amy, death looms in the shadows for the Sedaris clan, which won’t come as a surprise for those who’ve followed this family’s trials and tribulations throughout the years. We witness the time and place (an airport) he first learned of his sister Tiffany’s suicide in 2013 (recounted in “Now We Are Five”, included in Calypso) and watch helplessly at what would prove to be the final days of his father, Lou, who would pass away earlier this year at 98.
These moments, more than anything, a reminder that time passes for us all, and that the people portrayed in so many of Sedaris’ essays are real, and none more so than his family. Even as the author’s personal fame and fortunes placed his once relatable experiences outside the realm of probability for many, he’s still able to capture those intrinsically real and fragile human moments that all the money and culottes in the world couldn’t shield him from.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the most dedicated Sedaris fans by now, but it’s worth noting the audiobook version of A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020) features narration not just from the Sedaris, but also from comedienne supreme Tracey Ullman (handling his European-set recollections). Those who’ve missed hearing his unique voice, both expositionally and audibly, during the last few years should find some comfort knowing that somewhere out there, someone is dutifully picking up trash, and turning it into treasure.