In SantaLand Diaries, the humor writer David Sedaris recounts his time as a full-time elf at Macy’s. While he admired the people on the unpredictable streets of Manhattan dressed as tacos and French fries and handing out leaflets, this elf gig would ensure he’d have company with all the other helpers in Santa’s village, complete with fluffy white snow and candy canes. It would be a place, rather than a street corner. Plus, he was out of work and needed the job, and was hired, because he says, “I’m short.”
This was 1999, and over the next two decades, Sedaris has released over 17 books featuring essays, diary entries, mostly autobiographical in nature about growing up in an eccentric Greek American family, living in the U.S. and abroad, about current events, and whatever else strikes his fancy. There’s one story about taxidermy, another about going to a French dentist, one about trying to get in 10,000 steps a day while picking up litter, all with a sense of humor called “smart, droll, funny, and one of the greatest humorists writing today.”
He’s almost constantly traveling the world reading from his most recent release, or even some new essays he tries out on his audience. On a recent Friday night, Sedaris visited Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for The Arts on Long Island to read some of his stories, and take questions from the packed audience, that I have to say ran the gamut of ages from twenty-something college students to the senior set, and everyone in between. Book authors typically don’t need much staging, and for Sedaris, a few overhead lights, a podium, and stool holding a bottle of water was all he needed to keep the audience enthralled.
He’s out promoting A Carnival of Snackery, which features 600 or so pages of his diary entries, and the upcoming Happy-Go-Lucky, full of fresh new material that comes out at the end of the month. As a keen observer of life while traveling the book tour circuit, Sedaris has spent a lot of time on planes, in airports, in taxi cabs, and just a typical conversation with a taxi driver can turn hilarious, providing material for the next book. Though, in between the hilarity, there’s also heartbreak in his poignant family stories. One, which ran in The New Yorker (2013), began this way, “In late May of this year, a few weeks shy of her fiftieth birthday, my youngest sister, Tiffany, committed suicide.” Though his family has been what some critics have labeled “dysfunctional,” he believes they’re just “quirky,” and in the Introduction to The Best of Me, a collection of what he believed to be his best work, he writes that he would not trade his parents or siblings for anybody else’s. Though considered a humorist, Sedaris is better described as an observer of all of the human conditions.
In A Carnival of Snackery he shares this, “In reading the eighteen years’ worth of material that went into this second volume of my diaries, I noticed a few things. For starters, I have a lot of mice in my life.” He’s come across them, he says, in banks, restaurants, and on vacation, and one near Times Square with a “Cheeto in its mouth.” Who wouldn’t want to hear more of this!! Yet, this night, he chose to read from some new works: One focused on the scaffolding in New York, and how the structures, in many instances, are older than the buildings they cover. In another he comes upon a woman on a city street corner holding a sign of protest that read, “enough is enough.” When he asked her how much is really “enough,” she spews out her rage in a language he can’t understand. At that point, all Sedaris could do was raise his fist in solidarity and exclaim “right on.” Next. On a recent flight, he was perplexed why the parents in a seat behind him would let their child choose from an abundance of fruit juice choices. “Well, there’s apple, cranberry, orange, and pineapple.” This initiated an entire dialogue from the parent, reminding this little one that he liked the pineapple juice at grandma’s last summer. Why would a parent ask that, Sedaris notes in exasperation! “It’s apple juice. That’s it!” Then they asked whether the child wanted ice.
With over 12 million books sold, Sedaris credits luck more than anything, but also being observant about his own life, and the world around him. His stories are taken from the everyday-ness we all encounter, but with a gift he’s honed over these two decades, Sedaris points out the absurdity we may miss.
Top photo: Credit Anne Fishbein
For more on David Sedaris, visit his website.
For upcoming shows at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center, visit the website.