Sedaris fans will covet ‘Theft by Find­ing’

Hu­mor writer of­fers di­ary en­tries from 1977 to 2002

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - BOOKS - David Ho­la­han

As with prospect­ing in the Yukon, di­aries tend to pro­duce more gravel than gold.

Even when com­piled and edited by David Sedaris, whose ec­cen­tric ex­is­tence is em­i­nently en­thralling, there are is­sues.

Peo­ple ap­pear and dis­ap­pear with­out in­tro­duc­tion or con­text. Times and places change willy-nilly. The reader learns what the au­thor is up to, but rarely why. The year 1995 gets short shrift: less than three pages. Rough patch? Bor­ing times? Coma?

But this is Sedaris, who can be wickedly funny as well as de­li­ciously in­sight­ful about mod­ern mores — so the nuggets are big and shiny and well worth pan­ning for. An oth­er­wise ho-hum en­try can be punc­tu­ated by a lit­er­ary sucker punch: “Last week I was vis­ited by two Catholic nuns col­lect­ing money for what I can only hope were new uni­forms …”

Theft by Find­ing: Di­aries 19772002 (Lit­tle, Brown, 528 pp., eeeg) traces the au­thor’s as­cent from his peri­patetic, dru­gand-al­co­hol-in­fused 20s — pick­ing ap­ples and clean­ing houses — through his ini­tial suc­cess as a writer and de­but on Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio: nar­rat­ing a hi­lar­i­ous ac­count of be­ing a depart­ment store elf.

Fans will rec­og­nize some old friends, in­clud­ing He­len, his iras­ci­ble neigh­bor. The en­try for Feb. 28, 1994, reads: “He­len knocked this morn­ing and asked me to

mail some (ex­ple­tive) for her. Lit­er­ally. ‘It’s a stool sam­ple,’ she said.”

Sedaris turns over the rocks that lit­ter the hu­man land­scape and records what comes creep­y­crawl­ing out: racism, ho­mo­pho­bia or just weird­ness.

Ran­dom acts of mean­ness are pep­pered through­out. Walk­ing down a Raleigh, N.C., street, Sedaris is threat­ened with an anti-gay slur by a car­load of drunken men.

On the brighter side, Sedaris shares fa­vorite recipes and odd jokes that strike his fancy.

Princess Di­ana and Mother Teresa are in heaven and the fu­ture saint is not pleased: “‘It isn’t fair,’ she says. ‘All those years I lived in squalor, de­vot­ing my­self to the sick and suf­fer­ing. All she did was at­tend cock­tail par­ties and model clothes, so how come she has a halo and I don’t?” God says, ‘That’s not a halo, it’s a steer­ing wheel.’ ”

If you don’t think that’s funny, this prob­a­bly isn’t the book for you.

IN­GRID CHRISTIE

Au­thor David Sedaris

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