Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

theft-by-finidngI loved this book. I was  looking forward to reading it, but I did not expect to love it so thoroughly. I loved it so much that I had trouble turning off the audio (which I highly, highly recommend–Sedaris is a superb reader). I devoured the 15 hour audiobook in 6 days, and every time I had to turn it off, I got grumpy.

I’ve always enjoyed Sedaris’s work, although I was less enchanted with his most recent books, so I wasn’t sure where this one would fall. But I am also an avid journaler. I’ve been keeping a journal for 21 years now (I started when I was 11 and haven’t stopped since). So the idea of peering into someone else’s weird internal world was incredibly appealing, especially someone as absurd, funny and articulate as Sedaris.

Theft By Finding is a gem, and it’s my favorite of his books to date, no question. What struck me is how compulsively readable these diaries are. I was on the edge of my seat, completely entranced, needing to know what happened next. It’s all just ordinary life, but Sedaris has such a good eye. His particular wit comes through for sure, but it’s a bit less polished than in his essays, which, in my opinion, made it better. I was laughing out loud through most of it, and every now and then, a line would just break me with its truth or insight or tenderness.

There’s something really appealing about watching a public life unfold through such a private medium. Sedaris is a hugely successful author, but when these diaries begin, he’s a broke twenty-something, working a truly bizarre array of jobs. It makes him so relatable. The first half of the book is mostly about struggling to keep a job and find a place as a young person in a new city. The last third is a truly fascinating look at the life of a bestselling author on book tour. It was a really interesting way to watch someone grow up. There was no commentary; it just happened. 22-year-old-Sedaris wrote about different things than 45-year-old-Sedaris. None of it is ever condescending or self-aggrandizing. It’s just ordinary and hilarious and astute and tender.  It felt like a true gift, 80% hilarious entertainment and 20% wisdom.

Something else I appreciated was Sedaris’ bluntness. These are diaries, so I’d expect bluntness, but I feel like you could hold this book up as an example of how to talk to kids about the people they see in the world, and how not to be colorblind. The bulk of these diaries are anecdotes about other people–strangers, friends, colleagues, family, etc. Sedaris is constantly taking about something he overheard, a conversation he had, encounters on subways, planes, in grocery stores, etc. He states simply and clearly who people are: a black man, a white couple, a woman in a wheelchair, two Mexican teenagers, an old black woman, a woman with no arms, etc. etc. He describes people and then relates the incident. There’s no judgment attached. The anecdotes are usually funny and often absurd, but he never makes fun of people. He’s a truly extraordinary observer, and it was a pleasure to get to listen to 25 years of those observations.

In many ways, this book felt more honest than his previous ones (not that those were dishonest, but there’s something charmingly uncensored about this one). Yes, it’s his own self-selected edit of a vast swath of diaries. It’s a completely different book from the published diaries of a dead author, in which an estate simply publishes everything an author wrote. He’s still deciding what he shows the world. But it felt fresh, immediate, and intimate, even more so than his other work. I can’t wait for the next volume.

I also cannot recommend the audio enough. This is another reason this book felt like such a gift–it’s so rare someone reads their diaries out loud to you. Sedaris is a fantastic narrator, and hearing his diaries read out loud in his own voice was part of what made this book so, so good.





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