Theft By Finding – David Sedaris

As a die-hard Sedaris fan, I’ve been excited to get hold of his diaries ever since I heard they were being published. They start off in 1977 in his fruit-picking and hitch-hiking years and take us through his life of drug binges, dodgy apartments and many, many odd jobs before his writing started to get noticed.

It’s interesting to read about some of his pivotal moments as they were actually happening. Whether it’s meeting his long-term boyfriend for the first time, “a guy named Hugh”, who he describes as “…handsome, a nice guy. Gay.”. Or the death of his mother and the first family Christmas without her, “Christmas was hard… When Mom was around, we’d remain at the dinner table for hours, but this year we all scattered the moment we finished eating.”  

It’s these insights that made Theft By Finding such a captivating read for me, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for people unfamiliar with Sedaris. Instead, look him up on the New Yorker website or try one of his collections of essays first. Then you’ll be able to get the most out of meeting much loved ‘characters’ as he interacts with them in real-time in his diaries. It’s almost like watching bonus footage of your favourite film. In the case of Sedaris’ terrifying French teacher, made famous in his essay ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, we get a behind-the-scenes moment showing feelings of regret for the piece “…I have failed to mention her wit, and her skill as a teacher. That is what I have to apologize for, my laziness”.

His diaries are not as polished or narrative-driven as his essays which are usually nicely rounded off with a thoughtful conclusion. Whereas his published work is always humorous and often poignant, his diaries sometimes only have a quick observation, jotted down as a starting point for a piece which later blossoms into a few pages. And sometimes a sentence or two is all it takes to step into the bizarreness of David Sedaris’ world,“Half the people I know have dead animals in the freezer: reptiles, birds, mammals. Is that normal?”

Sedaris doesn’t suggest reading these diary entries all in one go, but rather dipping in and out. However, I’ve enjoyed seeing how his life has evolved and his writing developed. Although we’ll never be able to see exactly what an unedited version of his diaries would look like, because Theft By Finding is apparently only a tiny selection. Sometimes only a sentence may be kept out of pages of tiny scrawls. And so Sedaris is showing us a certain side of himself, as he acknowledges in his introduction, “An entirely different book from the same source material could make me appear nothing but evil, selfish, generous, or even, dare I say it, sensitive”. But if you think about it, that’s no different to the highly edited and ‘filtered’ lives we see all the time on social media anyway.

The diaries come to an abrupt end in December 2002 with no cliffhanger, but even so, I can’t wait to work my way through the next stage of his life in the second volume.

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