Friday, June 23, 2017

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris: A review

If you are planning a road trip this summer and need an audio book to entertain you along the way, I can strongly recommend David Sedaris' latest. It is a compilation of excerpts from diaries that he has kept for twenty-five years, from 1977-2002.

In his introduction to the book, Sedaris outlines the difference between the kind of diary that a person imagines s/he will keep and the kind that a person actually keeps. One imagines, he says, that one will address topics of great import, such as political and social injustice, but what one ends up writing about is petty things - "questioning fondue or describing those ferrets you couldn't afford."

The Sedaris diaries are very personal. The only political or national issue included in them is the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01, an event which he watched on TV in Paris. Other than that, he regales us with tales of his experiences with hitchhiking around the country and about his relationships with his various family members; his journey from being a wastrel to being a respected and famous writer; his coming to terms with his homosexuality and meeting his life partner, painter Hugh Hamrick.

In 1977, David was hitchhiking around the country, smoking pot, taking acid, and earning his money by doing odd jobs and manual labor. He picked and packed fruit in the Northwest. He often took jobs as a dishwasher. His home base at this time was still the family home in Raleigh, North Carolina, which he shared with his parents and five siblings. Some of his most acerbic writing concerns that family. At one point, he was thrown out of his home by his father and spent time living in a run-down apartment where he used an ironing board as a dining table.

Even during his drug-using days, he was a keen observer of the world and the people around him. He reports these observations to us with a sardonic and sometimes caustic wit. 

His reflections about his siblings are especially stinging at times. I noticed a marked difference in his impressions of his two sisters. He depicts his sister Tiffany as a loser, a mentally disturbed personality destined never to fulfill the promise of her early life. Amy, on the other hand, can, it seems, do no wrong. Everything she touches turns golden - at least in David's eyes.  

He brings his sardonic wit to bear on neighbors, people he meets on planes or trains, his co-workers at the manual labor jobs he does, in short, everyone that he meets on his journey through these twenty-five years.

Even after he begins to gain some success and recognition as a writer, he continues doing the menial jobs. It seems that he does them as much to gain material for his writing as he does for money. And a rich source of material they are! 

These vignettes are funny, but sometimes bittersweet, sad even, and often they gave me pause as to just what kind of person David Sedaris is. In the end, I found his recounting of his extraordinary life with the crazy jobs, the eccentric family, his rise to fame as he conquered his drug addiction and focused on writing, to be a tale of somewhat dark humor. The writer sometimes struck me as not a very nice person. I'm not sure he's the kind of person I would want for a friend. (What would he write about me? Nothing flattering for sure!) But as a sharp and scintillating observer of human folly, he has few peers. And that makes this Audible Audio book a perfect companion for a long road trip.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

   

4 comments:

  1. Well, his life (i.e., the odd jobs, drug use, family drama, etc) is fodder for great literature if one is talented enough and knows how to reflect it.

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    1. Indeed. It is the stuff of all thought-provoking fiction.

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  2. I have yet to read any of his books. Where should I begin?

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    1. I don't really think it matters. They are all excavations of his life story and his interactions with family, friends, and people passing through his life, but they are not really connected except in a loose sense. They all stand alone.

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