Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 - by David Sedaris

I went to my fourth David Sedaris event last Thursday in New Bedford (MA). The very next day James and I wrapped up our reading his latest book together. In the introduction to this work of diary entries he makes clear that this is only a "small fraction" of all that actually appears in the 156 volumes of his diaries. And that a different edit "from the same source material could make [him] appear nothing but evil, selfish, generous, or even...sensitive". What I saw, as a fan who has been following him since I first heard him on NPR in the early 1990s, was a person who was all these things, as well as a person who is a regular, if not frequent, user of libraries.

His introduction points out that the "early years, 1977-1983, were the bleakest" and "fueled by meth". I think it is also significant, then, that he mentions going to the library only infrequently during this time period. The word "library" appears three times during the first five years of entries, and only two of those were to discuss his own visits to the library, the other was as part of an overheard conversation at the IHOP - a place Sedaris appears to have frequented more often than the library - between two blind men one of whom talked about "the library for the blind and some good books he'd listened to lately." There is a definite change in the tone of the entries in 1984 when he moves to Chicago, and, I would add, a slight uptick in his frequency of discussing his use of the library, or reading of a library book.

In one of his first entries after moving to New York in 1990 he rambles about working out his "coffee situation". He is not crazy about either the IHOP which while they serve awful coffee (no surprise), they do give customers a whole pot, nor the Bagel Buffet which serves coffee in paper cups (blech) for .60 each. He wraps all this up with this truth: "Now I need a library card." There is no mention at all of the library in any of his 1991 entries, but he makes up for it by making two references (pun intended) in 1992 - one to lament that the library is closed on Lincoln's birthday. After this there is a concerning drop in the number of times the author uses the word library. I can only hope that this was simply an editing oversight, and that a different edit of this diaries would be in fact teeming discussions of all the great library books the author read, and how helpful and friendly the librarians were, but this edit has only mentions the word library twice after 1994 - one in 1998 (Paris) which was only to relate a story told to him about a friend of a friend, who, when he starting flipping through a magazine at a newsstand was told by the proprietor that they were not a "lending library".

I found the final mention of the word "library" in the last entry for 2001. It was poignant in its wistfulness. While contemplating what to wish for as he blew out the candles on his birthday cake Sedaris laments
When told to make a wish, I settled back in my chair, realizing I should have given it some prior thought. One option was an apartment in London, but in the end I wished for the opposite: the absence of things. Over the past few years I've fallen deeper into the luxury pit. I used to get pleasure from sitting at the pancake house with a new library book, but now I mainly buy things and work crossword puzzles.
Here's hoping that we see a resurgence of library use in the second volume.

If you haven't yet discovered David Sedaris, you really are missing some great humor. Find out more at

No comments:

Post a Comment