Kate Tuttle

Writer, critic, editor.

Nov 18, 2021
Published on: BostonGlobe.com
2 min read
David Sedaris appears at Boston's Symphony Hall on Sunday, Nov. 21Ingrid Christie

David Sedaris’s first volume of diaries, “Theft by Finding,” covering the years 1977-2002, was published in 2017. This fall he released a second volume, which brings us up to 2020, called “A Carnival of Snackery.” The entries are weird and wonderful, ranging from the very short — some just recount a joke someone told him — to longer pieces that combine travelogue, overheard conversations, and stories people tell him on the road (he is on the road a lot). Sedaris talked with us in October from his home in London. He will read at Symphony Hall on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.

Q. When and why did you start keeping a diary?

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A. Oh let’s see, 1977, so I think I was 20. I was with my oldest friend — she’s still my friend, Ronnie. We were picking apples in the Pacific Northwest and we were living in migrant camps. I didn’t have an address that anybody could write me to. And so I just started writing to myself. I was writing to my family and stuff, but they couldn’t write me back. so I just started writing to myself. I just did it one day on the back of a placemat at a diner. And the next day I did it, and the next day I did it, and I just took to it. I think I was waiting all my life to start keeping a diary.

Q. So you started writing it in longhand. Do you still write longhand?

A. I did it longhand, and then another old friend gave me a typewriter in 1980. I use my computer now. I print it out [and have it bound]. I do one every season. And the covers — I like to look at the cover and know what happened. I just bound my spring diary and the cover is a black background with five bells on it. Hugh, my boyfriend, painted it for me, because I wanted a cover that I would look at and I would think, oh, that’s when my dad died. And because there are five children left, he painted against a black background these five bells connected by a blue ribbon. It’s perfect.

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Q. How did your diary entries change as you got older, and especially once you became a professional writer?

A. The biggest change really was when I started writing on the computer. Like what I did this morning when I got up, the first thing I did was I turned to the diary that I wrote exactly a week ago today, and I cleaned it up — like if there were repeated words, I cleaned them up. So I let it sit for a week and then I go back to it. When I look at my early diaries there are a lot of repeated words like that, but I was on the typewriter and so you’re not going to start all over again because you used the word “clown” twice in two sentences.

Q. There are so many different kinds of entries in the diaries — some long, some short, some serious, some hilarious — do you have a favorite kind of entry, or even a favorite entry?

A. I think my favorite one is that I was in a really bad mood. I was in Spokane, Washington, and this woman picked me up at the airport. I had just been on tour for too long, and everything got on my nerves. I was grumpy with her, and I apologized for being grumpy. And then I learned that her husband had just died. This just came up in conversation. She didn’t put me in my place. She just sort of turned the light on so I could see where my place was. It was one of those moments where you kind of learn a lesson. It was a complete story. It felt really satisfying to me.

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"A Carnival of Snackery" by David Sedaris was published in October handout

Q. Are there things that are too personal for you to put into a diary entry?

A. I’ve never really written about sex in my diary. I mean when I was younger I would write, you know, “had sex with,” but I would never put the person’s name, just an initial, but I would never write about what we did or anything. Back then you had to worry that someone would find your diary, and it would be embarrassing. So, I don’t know, it was never my subject. If you were to read my diary, you would think that Hugh and I never had sex ever. But I know he would die of embarrassment if I would ever write anything about our sex life, so I just don’t. And I don’t write about my feelings very often, just because people’s feelings are boring. I don’t really care how anybody feels about anything.

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Q. Do you think that people tell you more weird things than they tell other people, or do you think you’re just better at listening?

A. I saw Spalding Gray once at the Aspen Comedy Festival and he did a piece called Interview the Audience and he pulled this 14-year-old kid up from the audience and he interviewed him on stage and it was just absolutely fascinating. I thought that it was set up, but he told me later he had no idea who these people were. He was just really good at asking the right questions. He had a way of relaxing people, and he had a way of making people feel interesting. They felt listened to.

Q. Do you find that you’re always paying attention, knowing that you’re looking for things to write about?

A. I’m always working. I’m always paying attention. I’m always looking for something pretty much that’s absurd. It’s like finding a gold coin. You don’t find it every day. One of the reasons I never wanted to have a daily column is that you can’t force it. So then you end up writing, like, “What’s up with light bulbs?” There’s nothing up with light bulbs.

Q. Does Hugh ever get offended when you write about him?

A. At this point Hugh is a character and he’s like the straight man. And that’s basically who he is in real life. No one has ever called him funny, I don’t think. I mean, he’s not unfunny but pretty much everybody says he’s handsome. And they also say, Is there anything he can’t do? He’s extraordinarily capable. There’s not a problem he’s ever given up on. He’s really, really dependable and honest and trustworthy. He doesn’t gossip — kind of on the dull side, really.

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Q. So a perfect foil for you?

A. Yeah.

Q. There’s a lot of talk about comedy and how it works in an era of what some people call cancel culture. How much do you worry about offending people?

A. If you worried about that, you wouldn’t be able to do your job. There’s a way people talk now, they don’t say anything. Their lips move, and words come out, and they don’t say anything because they’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I don’t speak that language and so I’m fascinated when I hear it, because I think it’s really funny. I’m grateful that I don’t have to speak that language. I don’t have a real job. Nobody can really fire me from anything.

Q. You don’t read your reviews. Why?

A. No. RuPaul says what other people say about me is none of my business. And I like that.

CELEBRITY SERIES OF BOSTON PRESENTS DAVID SEDARIS

At Symphony Hall, Nov. 21, 7 p.m. Tickets $29-$65. 617-266-1200, bso.org/events/david-sedaris