Starve and Struggle. Feast. Bloat. These are the three stages that all artists — with some variation — go through in their careers … So it’s encouraging to read 25 years of David Sedaris’s diaries, and not just because he manages to defeat Bloat. It’s helpful to see that a voice as original, hilarious and sometimes as infuriating as his was put through the same Struggle and Starve meat grinder that most of us go through … No one escapes Bloat, but many survive it. Maybe not with the grace, whining, hilarity and eye-rolling that Sedaris does. But through all 25 years of Theft by Finding, Sedaris’s developing voice is the lifeline that pulls him through the murk.
...a mesmerizing volume of deftly edited passages ... Sedaris is caustically witty about his bad habits and artistic floundering. Even when he cleans up his act, falls in love, and achieves raving success, Sedaris remains self-deprecating and focused on the bizarre and the disquieting. A candid, socially incisive, and sharply amusing chronicle of the evolution of an arresting comedic artist.
Good tidings, ladies and gentlemen of the fan club. While some of the pleasures of Theft by Finding are familiar from the earlier books, it has virtues that make it a standout among them ... Sedaris’ personal essays are put together so carefully that none of the seams show; they often ingeniously build to a sneak attack of wisdom or poignancy in the final lines. Here, the relatively artless diary entries, short and long, sequenced and non sequitur, add up to something we’ve never gotten before — a big, juicy narrative arc. It comprises 25 years of an essentially heartwarming success story, any potential ickiness kept in check by Sedaris’ judicious minimalism ... Career success takes a toll on the narrative momentum. Entries from 2001 and 2002, mostly about book tours and life in Paris, feel more dilatory and less pithy than what’s come before.
...In pulling back the curtain on some of the source material for his work, he provides an invaluable peek into what struck him as worthy of note over the years ... what we’re reading has been filtered many times over through the fine strainer of David Sedaris’s exacting literary standards. We’ve been spared the dreck. What’s left may have been enhanced for maximum effect. It is never boring ... Sedaris has essentially raided his own deep freezer for this book — and serves up a surprisingly satisfying meal from the choicest items.
Everyone I know loves David Sedaris, but I have been a holdout...but now I have read the first volume of his diaries and wouldn’t you know, now I love him, too. This book is flat-out mesmerizing ... We get poignant glimpses of his sister Tiffany, who clearly felt like an outsider in the family (and who committed suicide in 2013) ... Sedaris writes openly of his poverty, his insecurities, his substance abuse. But most of his entries are observations of others, often just random people he meets on the street ... This is not to say that the book is without problems. My original complaint about Sedaris’ veracity still holds: He has made a name for himself writing essays about his life — essays that are clearly exaggerated, embroidered and embellished — and he calls them 'memoir.' This makes me crazy. Memoir is nonfiction. Deliberately changing facts turns nonfiction into fiction. But hardly anyone else seems to care. Sedaris makes us laugh, and people are willing to overlook a lot for that ... Save the unedited 156 volumes for the academics. If this book is not the literal truth, well, at least he makes us laugh. For many readers, that will be enough.
About midway through the book the inimitable Sedaris voice we all know starts to emerge. The anecdotes grow more artfully, antically shaped. His reactions to all the strange people and incidents that come his way make him open up to the reader a little more ... Loving portraits of all his family members are threaded through the book, no matter how outrageous or distressing their behavior is. His reactions to world events go from being telegraphic to expansive. The keenest moment comes at a 9/11 memorial service in Paris when he realizes just how far from New York and Raleigh he is. '[W]hatever else Paris might be, this is not our home, it’s just the place where we have our jobs or apartments. How could we have forgotten that?' Passages like that make you eager for volume two.
...like much of Sedaris’ deceivingly simple prose, the enjoyment in Theft By Finding comes not from its very basic conceit but its sharp observations and bone-dry humor ... By book’s end, Sedaris’ entries read like mini essays. They’re often as enjoyable as anything in Holidays On Ice and Me Talk Pretty One Day ... Diary entries shouldn’t be this good, but considering Sedaris’ output, it’s not surprising that this collection is a worthy addition to his name.
Sedaris’s observations continue to sharpen throughout the 1980s and there are stories here about women being beaten by their boyfriends and African Americans being racially abused that are as effective as any sociopolitical polemic. And yet it’s either a result of the times in which Sedaris is writing, or his own naivety, that his observations about race can prompt discomfort, too ... vignettes are often achingly funny and, even when leading us into the darker corners of the Sedaris psyche, they can still make you gasp ... Ultimately, his masterstroke is in acting as a bystander in his own story. It’s other people’s lives that Sedaris finds most fascinating and, by extension, so do we.
... getting my hands on Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) allows me to consolidate his pre-2002 essays with the real-time diary entries that formed their foundations. It’s almost like putting together one of those crime-show suspect boards in my mind as I draw the connections from kernel to finished story, filling in my mental images of his father, mother, and siblings with increasingly fine detail ... tracing Sedaris’ life over the course of Theft By Finding, can become oddly poignant and heartbreaking at times, because we know to a large extent future events diary-David doesn’t ... Theft By Finding is like reading the first few Sedaris books in miniature.
As with prospecting in the Yukon, diaries tend to produce more gravel than gold...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 … Sedaris assiduously turns over the rocks that litter the human landscape and unflinchingly records what comes creepy-crawling out: whether racism, homophobia or just plain weirdness. The things he observes at IHOP challenge Darwin’s theory … Sedaris periodically shares favorite recipes and odd jokes that strike his fancy. Again, some are right on the edge — and quite amusing.
David Sedaris' diaries are not especially introspective. They offer different kinds of pleasures: those of the cultural historian, rather than those of the snoop … It's relentlessly interesting to read about daily life in a time that's within memory but somehow also impossibly far away — not only the wildly different attitudes towards homosexuality, but all the weird stuff they (we) ate, the fact that people were named things like ‘Ronnie,’ that typing was considered a skill, that people were always just calling each other up and stopping by, without texting first.
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 ... A surprisingly poignant portrait of the artist as a young to middle-aged man.
Sedaris displays the raw material for his celebrated essays with these scintillating excerpts from his personal journals ... Sedaris is a latter-day Charlie Chaplin: droll, put-upon but not innocent, and besieged by all sorts of obstreperous or menacing folks. The frequent appearance of colorful weirdos spouting pithy dialogue may strike some readers as unlikely to be entirely true. But Sedaris’s storytelling, even in diary jottings, is so consistently well-crafted and hilarious that few will care whether it’s embroidered.