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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