A CARNIVAL OF SNACKERY
By David Sedaris
Once every year or two, I’ll decide it’s time to start a diary. I’ll buy a notebook, spend two hours writing in excruciating detail about my day-to-day existence, and end up feeling like a failure — at diary-keeping, but also at living. A diarist’s life has meaning, even if just in retrospect. Mine, apparently, has none. My great pleasure (aside from drawing, jogging and croissants) is to read about other people’s lives. I love the way Gabrielle Bell and Keiler Roberts use their diary comics to endow small, throwaway moments with the dignity and weight of larger ones. I will always be a fan of Proust. And I’ve read everything David Sedaris has published — some things many times over.
In case you need a refresher, David Raymond (!) Sedaris grew up in Raleigh, N.C., with his parents and five siblings. He went through a performance art phase in his late teens and early 20s (which coincided with a meth phase); worked the kinds of hard jobs many people take up after art school (itinerant farmer, housecleaner, assistant to various kooks); met his partner, Hugh Hamrick, in his mid-30s; made some indie plays with his sister Amy Sedaris; and was discovered as a writer after reading a series of stories on NPR about his stint as a department store Christmas elf.
What he does in his exquisitely crafted essays is reconstruct his life as a funny story, the kind you’d hear at a dinner party if you were very lucky in your friendships. His books of personal essays include “Naked,” “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” and “Calypso.” He has also published one book of animal fables, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk,” and one compilation of his diaries: “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002),” which was published in 2017. Now he has a second collection of diaries, “A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020).”
In the late ’90s, partly to escape the weirdness of fame, Sedaris and Hamrick moved overseas. Some of my favorite David Sedaris essays are travelogues. These cover imperious language teachers, surreal shopping experiences, an exploration of different countries’ baffling alternatives to Santa Claus and a stint in Tokyo, where Sedaris went to quit smoking. His writing about interactions with cabdrivers, cashiers, flight attendants, fans and strangers are also deeply satisfying. But the real through-line of the essays is Sedaris’s family: his mother, Sharon, the consummate storyteller; his father, Lou, the disgruntled straight man surrounded by practical jokers; and his array of remarkable siblings — Lisa, the responsible one; Gretchen, the artist; Amy, the clown; Tiffany, the unsolvable mystery; and Paul, the fast-talking Southern guy. If you’re wondering, I’m a total Lisa.