20 Free Essays & Stories by David Sedaris: A Sampling of His Inimitable Humor

My first exposure to the writing of David Sedaris came fifteen years ago, at a reading he gave in Seattle. I couldn’t remember laughing at anything before quite so hard as I laughed at the stories of the author and his fellow French-learners struggling for a grasp on the language. I fought hardest for oxygen when he got to the part about his classmates, a veritable United Nations of a group, straining in this non-native language of theirs to discuss various holidays. One particular line has always stuck with me, after a Moroccan student demands an explanation of Easter:

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and… oh, shit.”

She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.

“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two… morsels of… lumber.”

The scene eventually ended up in print in “Jesus Shaves,” a story in Sedaris’ third collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day. You can read it free online in a selection of three of his pieces rounded up by Esquire. Sedaris’ observational humor does tend to come out in full force on holidays (see also his reading of the Saint Nicholas-themed story “Six to Eight Black Men” on Dutch television above), and indeed the holidays provided him the material that first launched him into the mainstream.

When Ira Glass, the soon-to-be mastermind of This American Life, happened to hear him reading his diary aloud at a Chicago club, Glass knew he simply had to put this man on the radio. This led up to the big break of a National Public Radio broadcast of “The Santaland Diaries,” Sedaris’ rich account of a season spent as a Macy’s elf. You can still hear This American Life‘s full broadcast of it on the show’s site.

True Sedarians, of course, know him for not just his inimitably askew perspective on the holidays, but for his accounts of life in New York, Paris (the reason he enrolled in those French classes in the first place), Normandy, London, the English countryside, and growing up amid his large Greek-American family. Many of Sedaris’ stories — 20 in fact — have been collected at the web site, The Electric Typewriter, giving you an overview of Sedaris’ world: his time in the elfin trenches, his rare moments of ease among siblings and parents, his futile father-mandated guitar lessons, his less futile language lessons, his relinquishment of his signature smoking habit (the easy indulgence of which took him, so he’d said at that Seattle reading, to France in the first place). Among the collected stories, you will find:

For the complete list, visit: 20 Great Essays and Short Stories by David Sedaris. And, just to be clear, you can read these stories, for free, online.

Note: If you would like to download a free audiobook narrated by David Sedaris, you might want to check out Audible’s 30 Day Free Trial. We have details on the program here. If you click this link, you will see the books narrated by Sedaris. If one intrigues, click on the “Learn how to get this Free” link next to each book. 

Related Content:

Be His Guest: David Sedaris at Home in Rural West Sussex, England

David Sedaris Reads You a Story By Miranda July

David Sedaris and Ian Falconer Introduce “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk”

David Sedaris Sings the Oscar Mayer Theme Song in the Voice of Billie Holiday

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (6)
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  • Megan M. says:

    Whenever we are down and out, there is David to lift our spirits. I hope he knows just how muh joy he brings to the life of the average reader. David, the world loves you.

  • Dorth says:

    I just recommended your site to my grandson. He is 40 and I am 80 but we like the same
    Kinds of reading. Thanks

  • Tam sham says:

    Love David Sedaris’s work. I enjoy reading his work aloud & can laugh myself into a frenzy , which is very fun. He is the antidote to whatever ails me.
    Much respect. Please never stop writing for us :-)

  • Elena Latici says:

    I had already traded my American Life for an Italian one when David rose to success and I was in the dark until, while on a visit back to the States, my sister introduced me to his work. I bought several of his books to take back with me.

    The building I lived in was a restored 16th Century stable and sound traveled in odd ways. One night, as I lay on my cot which could have substituted for a board in a masochistic cloistered convent, the young couple upstairs had finally gotten their fractious, colicky baby to sleep, I could finally read. Silence was of the essence.

    I opened my first David Sedaris book, the one that begins with him trying to drown a mouse outside his home in Normandy when he is interrupted in his murderous act by someone seeking directions. That was hilarious enough, but I managed to control myself on behalf of the sleep deprived trio who slumbered above me.

    Then I got to French Lessons and particularly to “are thems the brains of young cows?” as David attempts to order calves brains in his local butcher shop.

    I had a near death experience that late night, obliged as I was to turn over and bury my face in my pillow in order to muffle my shrieks of laughter. I couldn’t stop. I was learning Italian at the time and had recently told a roomful a people that once, I had found my lost infant sister lying beneath a squid.

    The word for hedge is siepe, which is the thing she was in fact lying under fast asleep and not a squid which is seppia.

    I can’t recall now exactly how much time I was compelled to remain face down on that pillow, but it was long enough to begin running out of oxygen and yet each time I thought I was safe to regain a semblance of sanity and lifted my head I was again assailed by incontrollable laughter.

    I now live in a 13th Century building where sound bounces around in even weirder ways. The Labrador puppy upstairs,left to his solitary devices during the day, whacks his heavy chew toy on the floor above my head while I try to write, resulting in the explosive sound of a stack of heavy books being repeatedly slammed down on the floor.

    And that is when I look to David, free as I am to submit to vengeful abandoned laughter. After all, the puppy can’t call the landlord to complain.

  • Kevin Hobbs says:

    Your link to the Santaland audio at This AmericanLife seems to be broken: looks like they’ve reorganised their site.

    Here’s a new, working link: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/47/christmas-and-commerce/act-two-5

  • Sara says:

    Structuring your essay according to the logic of the reader means studying your thesis and anticipating what the reader needs to know and in what sequence in order to understand and convince your arguments as they develop.

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