David Sedaris and the Story Safari

David Sedaris

David Sedaris on the radio in Boston, Photo by WBUR , CC BY-SA 2.0

One of my favorite storytellers, David Sedaris, has published his diaries. Well, selections from the first 25 years of his diaries. At this writing, I’m still stranded metaphorically on the side of a desert road with him—he seems to have hitchhiked his way through much of the late 1970s. So I can’t report on the rest of the book. But I loved the Introduction.

Sedaris talked about his long-time practice of carrying a notebook:

“…a small one I keep in my shirt pocket and never leave the house without. In it I register all the little things that atrike me, not in great detail but just quickly. The following morning I’ll review what I jotted down and look for the most meaningful moment in the previous day…”

In other words, every day is a Story Safari for David Sedaris.

What kinds of things does he capture in his notebook?

“It could have been seeing an old friend, or just as likely it could have been watching a stranger eat a sandwich with his eyes closed. (That happened recently, and was riveting.)”

You never know what treasures you’ll pick up on a Story Safari. Some you may never use; others will turn out to be the perfect anecdote to illustrate a difficult point. But unless you write down the stories as you notice them, they’ll disappear in the fog of grocery lists and old phone numbers that envelops everyone’s brain eventually.

What did David Sedaris call his new book?

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that while I’ve praised the book, I haven’t yet told you its title. That’s a Story Safari on its own:

“Not long after deciding to release a book of diary entries, I came upon a five-pound note. I’d been picking up trash alongside a country road in West Sussex, and there it was between a potato-chip bag and a half-full beer can that had drowned slugs in it.”

Notice the details Sedaris gives us—as well as the one he left out: Why was he picking up trash by the roadside? Was it some sort of community service, or was he just doing a service for his community? At any rate, he told a friend about the £5 windfall and she informed him that by spending the money, he’d committed a crime:

“In the U.K., if you discover something of value and keep it, that’s theft by finding.”

Theft by Finding seemed the perfect title for the book, which (he says) documents other people’s feelings and behavior far more closely than his own.

I suspect to find the results of many fascinating Story Safaris in this new David Sedaris book. I can hardly wait to read them.

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