Skip to main content

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)

Review

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)

Chances are, if you clicked on this review, you already are a fan of David Sedaris. And if you’re not yet, you should be! He has been around for a couple of decades now and has been lauded as one of the funniest writers in America. WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES, NAKED, DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM and ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY are just a few of his bestselling, beloved titles. He writes nonfiction essays on family, identity, owls and Christmas elves, bodies and language, drugs and travel --- almost nothing, really, is off-limits. No matter the subject, he handles it in a voice at once wry and witty, often self-deprecating, pretty much always right on the nose.

Part of the joy of picking up a David Sedaris book is in discovering what fresh perspective he will bring to a subject you never thought could be meaningful, hilarious or both. His writing, in turn, has made me laugh out loud on the train, forced me to consider solemn and inescapable truths, and change the way I think about other people.

"If you already are a fan, it’s quite a gem. If you haven’t read a Sedaris book, this will still likely appeal to you simply because he’s so preposterously observant and funny..."

It’s nothing less than a gift to be able to dive into the source material. For all the years he’s been active, and for quite a few prior, Sedaris has kept diaries. THEFT BY FINDING is an edited, curated edition of those diaries, from 1977 to 2002. It’s quite a long tome, and in his lovely, personal introduction, he mentions that it doesn’t need to be read straight through, but one can dive in and out. This absolutely holds true, as each one of his entries is, like nearly any Sedaris paragraph, an adventure in and of itself:

“October 26, 1985. Chicago. In the park I bought dope. There was a bench nearby, so I sat down for a while and took in the perfect fall day. Then I came home and carved the word failure into a pumpkin.”

“June 3, 1987. Chicago. This afternoon I found a $50 bill in the foyer of the building near the mailboxes. It was folded thin and full of cocaine. Some of it spilled when I opened it up, but there’s still plenty left. So that’s $50 in cash and around $80 of cocaine --- $130! If I find $50 every day, I won’t need to get a job.”

“February 16, 1988. Chicago. Reasons to live: 1. Christmas. 2. The family beach trip. 3. Writing a published book. 4. Seeing my name in a magazine. 5. Watching C. go bald. 6. Ronnie Ruedrich. 7. Seeing Amy on TV. 8. Other people’s books. 9. Outliving my enemies. 10. Being interviewed by Terry Gross on ‘Fresh Air.”’

Although it was a bit of an endeavor, I did enjoy reading the book from beginning to end. There’s something vindicating about reading Sedaris as a completely broke druggie, working odd building jobs and avoiding city bigots. There’s something safe about it, even as he dips in and out of meth, even as awful men break his heart, even as he struggles to maintain odd jobs --- not because you’re rooting against him, but because you know how the story ends. With book deals, bestseller after bestseller, accomplishment and love.

As you read, you ask yourself, how? How does this man become David Sedaris? Well, of course, he already is. But as to how he becomes the one we know, the book answers, slowly, steadily, step by step, good choice by chance meeting. When we read his other books, he reflects back on some of these days as if from a great distance, and infuses them with the humor and wisdom that can come from time. THEFT BY FINDING makes those moments immediate. We get to watch this great mind unfold. He deconstructs the barrier between who he is and who he was, in perhaps the most honest way possible. It’s like looking at photographs, but far more personal.

If you already are a fan, it’s quite a gem. If you haven’t read a Sedaris book, this will still likely appeal to you simply because he’s so preposterously observant and funny --- but it may resonate more deeply if you’re coming to this with a prior understanding of his voice.

Theft by finding. Sedaris heard it first when someone accused him of it, for keeping cash he noticed had been dropped. But it, of course, like all his titles, comes to mean so much more. This is a diary of true events. Of the pain and suffering and joys of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and a bit beyond. Sedaris immortalized human messiness in its most raw authenticity, and he preserves it and presents it in this volume. Did he steal the stories of the people in this book by coming across them and writing them down? Well, he was in the stories too. Found by thieving, perhaps? Discovering himself through plundering the plights of others? Both, likely, and it works magically.

Readers of Sedaris know his wit and will be reassured that, as he has always maintained, he doesn’t necessarily create it. It is here already. It is all around us. The sometimes joyful, sometimes mournful absurdity in a Sedaris book resonates because it is not manufactured, only curated. Here we peer into the raw materials, and they are ragged and shocking, devastating and uplifting, ultimately approaching, perhaps, miraculous.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on June 16, 2017

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

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Essays, Humor, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316154725
  • ISBN-13: 9780316154727