I’m currently 14 hours into listening to the audiobook edition of A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020), by David Sedaris. I have about three hours left and will be sad when it ends, which I’d say is a pretty good endorsement. Nevertheless, I suspect the most receptive audience for this title will be individuals who already know and adore Sedaris—either because they’ve read his previous books or heard him read from them in person or on public radio.
A Carnival of Snackery is actually Sedaris’s second diary volume. His first, Theft by Finding, covered the years 1977 through 2002. Sedaris’s diary entries aren’t deep dives into personal development, but in the first volume you can definitely observe his life unfolding. When it starts Sedaris is a 20-year-old college dropout, bouncing between bad jobs and bad apartments; when it ends he is a famous 45-year-old touring author, in a long-term relationship with boyfriend Hugh Hamrick.
By comparison, throughout the entirety of A Carnival of Snackery, which begins when Sedaris is 46 and ends just after his 64th birthday, his status doesn’t change—he’s still a famous, touring author and still with Hugh. As Sedaris, himself, writes in the introduction to A Carnival of Snackery, “Theft by Finding . . . had a narrative arc. ‘David Copperfield Sedaris,’ Hugh called it. If there’s an arc to this book, I don’t know what it is.”
Narrative arc isn’t the draw though. Instead, it’s the joy of spending time with someone who excels at sharing interesting observations and anecdotes from daily life. Sedaris begins each diary entry with a date and a location. And the number of locations from which he writes is astounding–countless U.S. cities, but also a surprising number of international ones (e.g., Perth, Tokyo, Odessa, Bucharest, Riga, Reykjavik, Dubai), representing stops on his various book tours. There are also recurring locales that reflect Sedaris’s various home bases—most notably Rackham, in West Sussex, England, where he and Hugh live, and Emerald Isle, North Carolina, where he vacations with his siblings in a beach house named the Sea Section.
Diary entries range in length from a couple sentences to a couple pages. Some record memorable jokes, which Sedaris regularly solicits from people in line at his book signings. Others consist of obnoxious sayings he sees printed on t-shirts. Most often, they feature snippets of conversations overheard while traveling, and also accounts of interactions he’s had with drivers, hotel staff, store clerks, barbers, flight attendants, and others he encounters on the road. He also writes about trash—specifically what he picks up with his grabber as he walks the roads of West Sussex. (He applies himself to this task so diligently he’s had a local garbage truck named after him.) Among the most poignant diary entries are those recounting conversations with his elderly father, whose dismissive attitude toward Sedaris clearly remains a source of pain. (Sedaris’s father died at the age of 98, several months after the last diary entry in this volume.) In the end, Sedaris’s diary excerpts teach us that an interesting and curious person can turn interactions and observations that most of us would consider boring and mundane into engaging snapshots.
Sedaris, David. A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020). Little, Brown and Company, 2021.