David Sedaris is best known for his laugh-out-loud books such as Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked. His latest collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, (released in the US on 3 June), once again puts a humorous spin on his everyday doings. Sedaris spoke with WSJ.
How do you come up with ideas for your books?
I never sit down thinking I’m going to write a book. Four years might pass and I look around and think, I have enough (essays already written) for a book.
You’ve said you rely on diary entries for your inspiration.
I started keeping a diary when I was 20. Every season, I write a diary. So, one that runs from 21 December until 21 March is my winter diary. They’re all broken up into seasons. Most of them are just boring crap, but at the end I go through them and find things I might be able to use later. I keep a guide to what’s in every diary, then I go through that and get ideas. The guide is full of incidents. The incidents aren’t enough to make a story—they’re just little vignettes—but sometimes I can just take the vignettes and plug them into a story.
The humorist: Sedaris’ new book of essays is a humorous spin on everyday doings. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images / AFP)
Do you consider your essays as memoirs?
I wouldn’t call it memoir. If I had to call them anything I’d call them comic essays. For some reason, and I don’t know why I think this, I’ve always thought of memoir as more of a whole —I think of Angela’s Ashes, which is a whole book that begins at one point and ends at another point. My books are choppier than that. Often there are stories about things, not about people at all.
Which other writers do you admire?
Tobias Wolff. I like the way he’s abstract. So many people get abstract and they’re not interesting and you don’t believe in their characters—they’re words on a page. But Wolff just continues to astonish me. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. You can’t fake his humanity.
What essays in When You Are Engulfed in Flames are you particularly fond of?
All The Beauty You Will Ever Need, about buying drugs with my brother. I like reading it aloud, the way it moves, the laughs it gets, the feeling I get at the end when I’m reading it.
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