BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, June 2017
In Theft by Finding, David Sedaris, best known for his eight bestselling books as well as his contributions to “This American Life,” The New Yorker and Esquire, offers a glimpse into the most unruly of writing: his diaries from the years 1977-2002. Sedaris notes in the introduction that he does not expect readers to plow through this 528-page tome in linear fashion, but instead to dip in at random. I suspect he would approve of my own manner of reading the book, which was to see what Sedaris was up to on my birthday each year.
However, his (edited) diaries are too interesting to limit oneself only to birthday entries—I wound up reading the whole thing, laughing frequently and earmarking many memorable passages. These diaries reveal the development of Sedaris’ aesthetic, filled with rich and unfailingly sharp observations—portraits of people he saw on the street, overheard snippets of dialogue, accounts of interactions with everyone from cabdrivers to his irrepressible siblings.
For Sedaris fans, the diaries offer a backstage tour of books like Me Talk Pretty One Day (his initial observations of his French teacher, essays he wrote in response to homework prompts) and Holidays on Ice (accounts of locker-room exchanges between men working as Macy’s holiday elves). There are moments of sadness, such as the unexpected death of his mother and the slow decline of his sister Tiffany, who would later commit suicide. But this is not a sad book; instead, it’s a gloriously weird one. Sedaris lists Christmas presents received every year, shares recipes and constantly suggests to the reader to keep going, just for one more page.
“If nothing else, a diary teaches you what you’re interested in,” Sedaris writes. This is a diary that shows us how Sedaris’ powers of observation and his intense investment in his own perspective have enriched his life and, by extension, ours.