I have to admit it’s taken me a long time to finish reading volume one of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding 1977-2002 (Photo of David Sedaris above). I’ve reviewed other books in the past year and posted them on my blog, including Hugh Riminton’s Minefields, his compelling autobiography about his life in journalism; cameraman Leslie Seymour’s memorable memoir: My Best Shot: A Life Through the Lens; journalist James Jeffrey’s wonderful ode to his family and journalistic endeavours, My Family and Other Animus, and Robert Drewe’s cracker of a novel about the Cleary family celebrating the 160th anniversary of the arrival of their Irish ancestor, Conor Cleary, in a Victorian vineyard called Whipbird, the title of the book.
That’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to finish the Sedaris volume: Other books and authors took precedence. Also, I decided to read his diaries because the reviews were good, and I thought perhaps I should write my memoir as a diary since I kept mine for more than 30 years as a TV journalist. Sedaris, as a diarist, prefers to talk about other people’s feelings, not his own. He records unusual events of the day, like a drunk couple having a fight in the street outside of his Paris apartment at 3am; a pot dealer who brings pot to his flat in New York and then asks for his autograph, and Sedaris delights in overhearing conversations and startling statements. A friend in London told Sedaris if you discover something of value and keep it, that’s theft by finding, hence the title. My favourite amazing statement comes from Louis, who claimed to be the world’s first rapper, in New York. David tells Louis about a neighbour of his sister, Lisa, who was caught having sex with his Labrador retriever. Louis asked if the dog could get pregnant. Sedaris replies: “Are you serious?” David doesn’t expect anyone to read the 500 plus pages from start to finish. That’s just as well, given the length, but it is well written, funny and fascinating. There were days when the entries were a bit boring: for example, picking fruit in Odell, Oregon in 1978; or when he dug ditches in the cold rain in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1982 and worked with a guy called Tommy. His wife “cooked chicken and rice so he (Tommy) didn’t have to beat her ass last night. It was right there on the table when he got home.” I sort of lost interest in the diary when Sedaris posted his January 13th 1987 entry about his painting class in Chicago. His teacher showed slides of famous artists and a deaf man farted when she asked him to sit down. But I resumed reading the book a month or so later, and found this poignant post by Sedaris on November 14, 1991 in Raleigh: “Mom died last night, suddenly, of pneumonia brought on by her chemotherapy . . . Dad gave us the option of seeing her laid out at the funeral home, but I was afraid to go. We all were. How strange to be in her house and see her things — the half-worked crossword puzzle, her mail and stockings. She didn’t expect to die yesterday, did she?” And later in Paris on November 24, 1999, Sedaris writes: “People might be more sensible in France, but back in the States, I hear it all the time. Someone will claim to live with angels. They swear there’s one in the backseat of their car. If you see devils, they lock you up, but in America, if you see angels, they put you on morning TV.” The diary gets better. In his September 12, 2001 entry in Paris, Sedaris gives a piercing portrait of 9/11: “Last night on TV I watched people jump from the windows of the World Trade Center. I watched the towers fall in on themselves, I watched the burning Pentagon, and then I watched people jump from the windows of the World Trade Center. From my kitchen, office, and living-room windows, I saw my neighbors watching the same thing, each with a remote in one hand and a telephone in the other. It felt like everyone in the world was in front of the TV.” Theft by Finding is a fine book, it just needs a bit of pruning. In his introduction, David Sedaris says he’s planning Volume two from 2003-2017. I just hope he can tighten it up a little. But I also hope he continues to write his beloved diaries. As he says eloquently in the introduction: “That’s the thing with a diary, though. In order to record your life, you sort of need to live it. Not at your desk, but beyond it. Out in the world where it’s so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need to sit down and write about it.”
Write on, David!
Theft by Finding: Volume One 1977-2002, David Sedaris, Little, Brown, 517 pages.