A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris

This second volume of diaries has a different tone than the first, Theft by Finding. That earlier (2017) volume covered years (1977–2002) during which Sedaris wasn’t yet a successful essayist and public speaker. In that first volume, the younger Sedaris spent indigent years as an addict and odd-job person before finding his voice in Santaland. This second volume covers the years in which the hugely successful Sedaris flew around the world signing books, giving public readings, and shopping.

And everywhere he goes, he collects outrageous stories. Whether they come from his people, or are simply his observations of the terrible things human beings do, they are all grist to his mill. At one point, he ruefully mentions one of his pieces being “fact checked” by The New Yorker. He writes non-fiction, but not really. His main subject has always been himself, and these diaries give you access to the base material before it is honed.

His people are the ones who stop him on the street to share an anecdote or off-colour joke, or attend one of his readings, or line up in a book store to ask for an outrageous dedication in the front of his latest publication. Be careful what you wish for, by the way: one man asks for such a dedication in a book he planned to give to his mother. Sedaris wrote, Your son left teeth marks on my dick. Don’t come here if you’re the type to take offence.

A Carnival of Snackery takes us from 2003 to the end of 2020; it’s not so much a day-by-day account of that time as a quick-fire tour, edited highlights, not even week-to-week as it is month-to-month. It’s still a hefty read: 562 print pages, giving each year (on average) just over 30 pages. Sedaris writes in the foreword that he has missed out the multiple entries about mice infesting their house in France, for example.

It comes across as a restless, magpie existence. The flat in Paris, the house in Normandy, the London pad, the apartment in New York, the beach house in North Carolina, the house in West Sussex. And this doesn’t include the hotels, the airports, the bookshops, the cars and coffee shops in which Sedaris encounters his people. He enjoys the fruits of his success: the first class seats, the five star hotels, the VIP treatment. At the same time, he’s not remotely squeamish or standoffish, and has made a career out of his willingness to “go there”, whether “there” is a swimming pool someone just took a shit in, or a slightly dodgy neighbourhood in Bucharest, or the roadside verges of West Sussex, where he famously picks litter.

Sedaris’ lack of squeam is his brand, which means that some parts of this are a bit gross for someone like myself. You might also end up horrified at Americans in general, as almost everyone he meets seems to hold views that are beyond the pale. And Sedaris collects all these stories because he is able to withhold judgement — or at least appear to at the time.

Reading these diaries might mean that you decide never to swim in a public pool again, and you will certainly wonder about every surface that you touch in a public building from now on. It’s ironic for such a globetrotter to have ended up locked down in New York City in 2020. Of all the places he could have landed, this surely must have felt the most claustrophobic.

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