David Sedaris Unfiltered

David Sedaris Unfiltered

As with prospecting in the Yukon, diaries tend to produce more gravel than gold.

Even when compiled and edited by David Sedaris, whose eccentric existence is eminently enthralling, there are issues.

People appear and disappear without introduction or context. Times and places change willy-nilly. The reader learns what the author is up to, but rarely why. The year 1995, for example, gets short shrift: less than three pages. Rough patch? Boring times? Coma?

But this is Sedaris, who can be wickedly funny as well as deliciously insightful about modern mores — so the nuggets are big and shiny and well worth panning for. An otherwise ho-hum entry can be punctuated by a literary sucker punch: “Last week I was visited by two Catholic nuns collecting money for what I can only hope were new uniforms…”

"Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002" traces the author’s ascent from his peripatetic, drug-and-alcohol infused 20s — picking apples and cleaning houses for a living — through his initial success as a writer and debut on National Public Radio: narrating a hilarious account of being a department store elf during the Christmas season. NPR continues to air it annually.

Fans of Sedaris’ previous books will recognize some old friends, like Helen, his elderly and irascible neighbor. The entry for Feb. 28, 1994, reads: “Helen knocked this morning and asked me to mail some shit for her. Literally. ‘It’s a stool sample,’ she said.”

A warning to the easily offended: this previous passage is mild compared with some others. Sedaris assiduously turns over the rocks that litter the human landscape and unflinchingly records what comes creepy-crawling out: whether racism, homophobia or just plain weirdness. The things he observes at IHOP challenge Darwin’s theory.

Random acts of meanness or worse are peppered throughout. Walking down a Raleigh, N.C., street one night, Sedaris is threatened with an anti-gay slur by a carload of drunken men.

Once again, Sedaris does not spare his immediate family. His father, in particular, doesn’t fare well. Dad called the day after his son appeared on "Late Night With David Letterman" to complain, “You looked terrible.” He was “angry that I hadn’t worn a bow tie,” the son writes in an attempt to explain the inexplicable.

On the brighter side, Sedaris periodically shares favorite recipes and odd jokes that strike his fancy. Again, some are right on the edge — and quite amusing. Take this one (please!) about Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, who died within a week of one another in 1997:

The two are in heaven and the future saint is not pleased: “ ‘It isn’t fair,’ she says. ‘All those years I lived in squalor, devoting myself to the sick and suffering. All she did was attend cocktail parties and model clothes, so how come she has a halo and I don’t?' " Then God says, ‘That’s not a halo, it’s a steering wheel.’ ”

If you don’t think that’s funny, this probably isn’t the book for you.