The first time I read anything by David Sedaris was in college. I was taking a humor writing course and "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" was on the syllabus. It was the first book we read in the class, and honestly, it was the highlight of the semester. Nothing else we read was as funny or self-aware, and after that, I started reading as many of Sedaris's books as I could. Here are the ones I hold closest to my heart.
"Laugh, Kookaburra" and "Understanding Understanding Owls"
Both of these essays come from Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls. Out of all the essays in this book, these are the two I think about the most. "Laugh, Kookaburra" chronicles the trip that Sedaris and his partner Hugh take with their friend to Australia, but also weaves in the story of how Sedaris and his sister would sing a kookaburra song that annoyed his father. But what really hits home for me is the analogy of a stovetop, each burner representing family, friends, health, or work. To be successful, you have to turn off one burner. To be really successful, turn off two burners. The essay wanders around, casually exploring memories and moments until Sedaris expertly pulls all the elements together, leaving you thinking "what burners do I have turned off?" "Understanding Understanding Owls" on the other hand opens with the line, "Does there come a day in every man's life when he looks around and says to himself, I've got to weed out some of these owls?" Sedaris maps out how having the book Understanding Owls led to his life being taken over by owl memorabilia and ultimately the search for a taxidermied owl. The rest of this book is not to be missed, but these are two you must read.
Theft by Finding
This book is a peek into not only Sedaris's life, but also his method. Sedaris keeps a small notebook on him so he can take notes throughout the day. Then, when the day is done, he takes those notes and complies them in his diary. This is a collection of diary entries from 1977 to 2002, and it's fascinating to see how Sedaris grows and changes as a person and a writer. The drug abuse years are full of short sentences and random observations. His life with Hugh is more introspective. Occasionally he will mention a piece being published, but he never writes about the writing. His life and his thoughts are what turn into the essays we see, and it's nice to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain.
Holidays on Ice
I don't know if others would label this collection as "must read," but I'm incredibly biased. As someone who grew up in a town called Santa Claus, I cherish this collection. Like Sedaris, I too have spent quite a few days working as an elf, and because of this I empathize with him. These are the essays that make me belly laugh, whether it's discussing how elves must remain cheery no matter the circumstance or puzzling over confusing Christmas traditions, because I relate to them the most. I can vividly see the winter wonderland he describes, as well as the questionable Santas and more-frazzled-than-happy elves.
And at the heart, that's what Sedaris does best. He draws in his readers with all-too-relatable moments or feelings which are told like swapped stories over coffee. You cry a little, you laugh a lot, but most importantly, you are entertained.