Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977-2012, by David Sedaris

 I was first exposed to the work of David Sedaris a few years ago, when a co-worker handed me a copy of his book, WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES. I had heard of Sedaris before, but had never been tempted to try any of his work. If my co-worker had merely told me to read the book, I would have nodded politely, and purposefully never given it a look. However, thanks to a character flaw that would do Sedaris proud, I am unable to refuse things that people physically hand to me. I accepted the book, and sadly sat down to read it that night, mourning all of the interesting books that I would miss out on while I read the loaner.

 Needless to say, I loved the book, and I went out and bought all of his other books immediately, and they have sat unread amongst the thousands of other books that I hoard. In fact, I have been sitting on this review copy of THEFT BY FINDING: DIARIES, 1977-2002 for nearly two years now. (I eventually DO get to everything that I'm sent to review...I just can't promise how fast I'll get to it.)

 Sedaris pretty much tells readers in the beginning of the book that this collection of diary entries is not something that he could imagine anyone just sitting and reading straight through. He recommends dipping in and out, and that was advice that I foolishly ignored. Within a few pages, I began to think "I can't take over 500 pages of this......who did they think that this would interest?" Within a few more pages, I was completely hooked, and I hated the times when I was forced to close the book.

 WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES left me with the impression that David Sedaris is a non-dangerous kind of deeply disturbed mentally ill person. THEFT BY FINDING made me wonder why I thought that.....he seems completely rational. A little neurotic, maybe. Kind of introverted. But normal. But then you get the diary entries that detail things like his nurturing and feeding the massive spiders that infested his Paris home, and the hours and hours that he spent catching flies to feed to them, like a demented Renfield, tossing them into their webs and waiting patiently for them to feast on the hapless bugs. He named these spiders. Names like Clifton, Coretta Scott, and Jerry. He offered them encouragement as they built their webs and ate their prey. He mourned them when they died. This made me think that I was probably not too far off the mark initially, when I thought he was a deeply disturbed mentally ill person.

 But......who wouldn't want to be friends with a person like Sedaris? Even the most mundane activity becomes engrossing and hilarious through his matter-of-fact descriptions. Aside from his world travels, Sedaris does almost nothing out of the ordinary between 1977 and 2002; His success as a writer is virtually glossed over in favor of stories about odd things that he saw or heard or experienced while walking to the store, eating out, or taking a class. I could not read this book fast enough, and it saddened me to reach the last page. This is supposed to be the first or two volumes, but the second volume is nowhere to be found. Is it forthcoming? Or is the second, and final, volume meant to cover the rest of Sedaris' life...? Please don't make me wait until you die to read more, David.

 Little Brown provided a review copy a long time ago. My conscience has been eased a bit now that I've finally gotten to it.

 THEFT BY FINDING: DIARIES, 1977-2002 earns an icky nine out of ten Coretta Scotts: