In this follow-up to his previous volume of diaries, Theft by Finding, the humorist David Sedaris chronicles the years 2003-2020, charting the years of his rise to fame with his trademark misanthropic charm and wry wit.
I’ve read everything David Sedaris has published — some things many times over ... What he does in his exquisitely crafted essays is reconstruct his life as a funny story, the kind you’d hear at a dinner party if you were very lucky in your friendships ... When Sedaris’s first volume of diary entries came out, I was curious to peek behind the curtain of his prose. It turned out, the diaries...are as clear, direct and funny as his essays ... Sedaris' essays have a strength: They exist for a reason — namely, to describe and preserve his family. His family is the deciding factor that makes him a warm and funny writer to the core, and not a lonely, abstract one ... The entries in A Carnival of Snackery focus on small things, the kind of thing Sedaris notices ... What sets Sedaris’s diaries apart from his essay collections is not that they’re more intimate (more wouldn’t be possible) or that they show a different aspect of the author or his life, but that the collections themselves are longer. Time passes ... To portray the passage of time is, I think, the great artistic advantage of a thick novel or a long memoir. It’s large-scale art: architecture rather than sculpture, grand painting rather than doodle. The problem with a big, structural work of art is that the small parts often atrophy and drift away. Someone like Sedaris, who has such a gift for illuminating small things, would normally have no business crafting an edifice. But the beauty of a diary is that it doesn’t need to be crafted. It just grows on its own, while the diarist concentrates on the human-scale (or even microscopic) things that interest him.
Diaries can be private spaces, but these recollections were clearly written with public dissemination in mind ... He couldn’t write a bad sentence if he tried, but its their performative nature that gives his work a beautiful rhythm. The timbre of his lovely, soft, slightly high-pitched, slightly lisping voice echoes in your head, as punchlines are deftly delivered ... Cruelty and kindness, tragedy and joy rub fabulously together as they always do in Sedaris world ... David Sedaris...a man whose ceaseless curiosity about human beings and eye for the peculiar is as unusual as it is delightful, wise, funny and hugely life-affirming.
Next to his pet peeves – rude people, over-friendly service staff and always, always litterbugs – more serious stuff is rarely dealt with: his agent’s dementia and sister Tiffany’s mental illness are presented almost as a diversion, at least until he reports their deaths. Compassion makes an occasional appearance ... but you won’t find analysis here of the major events of these interesting years. The protests after the murder of George Floyd are less likely to attract reflection than sarcasm or a quip ... The jokes seem to thin out in the later years, as Trump takes power, as Sedaris’s father’s health declines, as Covid descends. We don’t expect consistency from diarists, nor explication, and we don’t get it, as people appear without introduction or footnote: in Sedaris’s books, other people exist mainly to provide amusement. Best, then, not to read this book cover to cover, like a novel, but to use it as suggested by the title (which is taken from an Indian restaurant menu): to keep the appetite for delight and absurdity satisfied until the next Sedaris book comes along.