Raw glimpses of the humorist’s personal life as he clambered from starving artist to household name.
For years, Sedaris (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, 2013, etc.) has peppered his public readings with samples from his diaries, usually comic vignettes with a gently skewed view of humanity. Those are in abundance here. “Jews in concentration camps had shaved heads and tattoos,” he writes after learning about a Chicago skinhead’s arrest. “You’d think the anti-Semites would go for a different look.” Forced to trim his toenails with poultry shears for lack of clippers, he writes, “that is exactly why you don’t want people staying in your apartment when you’re not there, or even when you are, really.” The diaries also provide Ur-texts for some of the author’s most famous stories, like his stint as a Macy’s Christmas elf that led to his breakthrough radio piece, “The SantaLand Diaries,” or the short-tempered, chalk-throwing French teacher in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000). But though the mood is usually light, the book is also a more serious look into his travails as an artist and person: Sedaris is candid about his early ambitions to succeed as a writer, his imposter syndrome as a teacher, his squabbles with his never-satisfied dad and mentally ill sister, Tiffany, and his alcoholism. Even that last challenge, though, is framed as comic, or at least the stuff of non sequitur: “Today I saw a one-armed dwarf carrying a skateboard. It’s been ninety days since I’ve had a drink.” While Sedaris’ career took flight during the period this book captures, success didn’t change him much; it just introduced him to a broader swath of the world to observe and satirize. He can hardly believe his good luck, so he’s charmed by the woman who, upon escorting him to a packed bookstore reading, exclaims, “goodness, they must be having a sale.”
A surprisingly poignant portrait of the artist as a young to middle-aged man.