David Sedaris Diaries

A Visual Compendium


By David Sedaris

By Jeffrey Jenkins

Foreword by David Sedaris

Edited by Jeffrey Jenkins

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$60.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $50.00 $60.00 CAD
  2. ebook $19.99 $25.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 10, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A remarkable illustrated volume of artwork and images selected from the diaries David Sedaris has been creating for four decades

In this richly illustrated book, readers will for the first time experience the diaries David Sedaris has kept for nearly 40 years in the elaborate, three-dimensional, collaged style of the originals. A celebration of the unexpected in the everyday, the beautiful and the grotesque, this visual compendium offers unique insight into the author’s view of the world and stands as a striking and collectible volume in itself.

Compiled and edited by Sedaris’s longtime friend Jeffrey Jenkins, and including interactive components, postcards, and never-before-seen photos and artwork, this is a necessary addition to any Sedaris collection, and will enthrall the author’s fans for many years to come.


No. 140 September 21 – December 20, 2012

No. 17 July 28 – September 7, 1982

No. 146 March 21 – June 20, 2014



Jeffrey Jenkins

David Sedaris’s cabinet of diaries, London, 2016

Since 1977 David Sedaris has kept roughly four diaries a year. One hundred fifty-three and counting. This is probably not a surprise to anyone who has read his books or listened to him read on the radio or from the stage, since his writing often makes reference to his diaries or quotes from them directly. Many of his early readers were introduced to his work when they heard him read his “SantaLand Diaries” story on National Public Radio in 1992. It was a memorable introduction to his acerbic wit and outsider’s vulnerability. It would not be wrong to imagine his working diaries as neatly packed with daily notations and humorously described encounters, but what is surprising is the visual nature of these layered and idiosyncratic volumes.

Along with his discipline of writing in them every day, he uses the 8 x 9½–inch plastic- or wire-bound volumes to accommodate an evolving and eclectic collection of artwork and ephemera. The diaries reveal that David has as sensitive an antenna for the interesting and eccentric visual artifact as for the overheard conversations and wry observations of strangers and family.

This daily routine serves as a preamble to his professional writing and is a way of warming up before working on other material or stories. In a recent exchange about his diaries and writing practices, he told me, “Writing in a diary helps you develop your voice. It also points out what you are interested in. For some people it’s art or politics or nature. For me it’s funny or fucked-up things. A guy two rows ahead of me on a crowded flight to Denver shits his pants, and that’s a good day for me.”

A quiet, observant man with a fearless curiosity, David is quick to wade into waters both dark and challenging and to emerge gleefully displaying discoveries of the profane and the profound. A lifetime of experiences and observations ends up duly inscribed in his trophy case of diaries (opposite). While many of his diary excerpts have been shared in published writings and readings, most remain sequestered in their private reserve, guarded by a grinning reminder of our mortal coil.

So it was with a bit of awe and trepidation that I first encountered this cabinet of curiosity. On a visit to London in 2013, David showed me some of the diaries, and I was captivated by their diverse range of covers. Their peculiar strangeness alone seemed worthy of documentation, and I suggested that they be compiled into a book.

I first met Sedaris in the early 1970s when we were Boy Scouts in Troop 366 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Standing at attention in our uniformed, pseudo-militaristic rows, David, bespectacled and small, appeared more like a dark-haired Grecian book elf than one of the gangly Southern log splitters making up much of our ranks. In hindsight, I can imagine he felt a little out of place. But most of us suffered from the physical and social awkwardness adolescence generously provides, so I didn’t really notice. It’s difficult to picture him in that forest-green summer uniform now, but perhaps it helps explain his current affection for culottes and the odd hat.

I was a Boy Scout because I liked to camp, and the weekend getaways gave me perfect opportunities to be obnoxious in a parentless environment. I think David’s being there was probably more his dad’s idea. He was a couple of years older than me, and so we didn’t interact much. I would see him quietly tagging along with the older boys’ clique, observing their Darwinian hierarchies and their more strident curiosities and cruelties. (Our troop’s outings were often a mash-up of Lord of the Flies meets The Andy Griffith Show meets a junior varsity Animal House.) If only he had been keeping a diary then.

The Sedarises’ Raleigh, North Carolina, living room, 2016

Several years passed, and I became romantically involved with his sister Gretchen. I was in high school then and still lived at home, but I seemed to be at the Sedarises’ house more than at my own. It was the kind of place you wanted to hang out in. Everyone who knew the family knew there was a different vibe at this house: a raucous energy and welcoming spirit with an OPEN 24 HOURS feel to it. The rock in this stream of constant motion was their mother, Sharon. She seemed always to be stationed as an abiding presence in the kitchen, and like most of the family’s visitors, I would often spend more time talking with her than with any of her six children.

In addition to the open-door policy—and the likelihood that someone would be up and about at almost any hour—the Sedaris house emanated a kind of urbane sophistication that felt exotic in our Southern suburban social landscape. The walls were covered in unfamiliar artworks often expressive of darker moods than the sunny prints and assembly-line landscape paintings many of our parents favored. Their father, Lou, had designed the house, set below the road and nestled in an unruly landscape of brambles and trees—in sharp contrast to the neighbors’ manicured lawns and shrubs. A kind of modern Addams Family eccentricity was the promise and the reward.

While there was conversation and laughter dominating the kitchen, and art and ceramics on display throughout the house, the small living room was the patriarch’s domain. Enthroned in a Barcelona chair, Lou gave audience to two of the largest stereo speakers I had ever seen and listened to jazz played nice and loud. But it was nothing compared to what would rattle the windows and the viscera when one of the kids got to the stereo. I was coming from a household of easy-listening radio and my older brother’s rock, so when I visited, my limited worldview expanded to a sound track of Lou snapping his fingers to Miles, Bird, and Coltrane—and Tiffany, David’s youngest sister, waging sonic warfare with Earth, Wind & Fire or Aretha Franklin. David and Gretchen leaned toward Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone, while Amy communed privately with Barbra Streisand downstairs.

As much as David is prone to dismiss his early diary writings and artwork, so too are we sometimes disposed to look with embarrassment and dismay at our early visual art preferences. The Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Hundertwasser prints are gone from David’s walls, but his knowledge and refined appreciation of art are still an important part of his life. David’s taste in artwork may have evolved since the seventies, when he yearned to move beyond North Hills, but the seeds were planted there and they continue to grow.

It’s no surprise that some of the Sedaris tribe came out of this environment hell-bent on a path of creative expression. I know I did.

Just as I was being introduced to this dynamic household, David was graduating and off to college. He appeared to mix short stays on a campus (Western Carolina University and Kent State, later graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago) with extended periods of itinerant travel. Preferring the seminomadic and anonymous lifestyle of the migrant fruit picker over college life, he would often hitchhike or take a bus to places that needed fruit harvesting, most often apple-growing regions. It seems appropriate now that he chose the hard work that symbolized seasonal transition.

The Sedarises were as attuned to the change of seasons as anyone I’ve known. Fall, particularly, held significance, with October 1 being designated an official holiday. Christmas was also especially revered. It was as if these transitions and holidays were important because they offered renewed opportunities for self-expression. In addition to their elaborately and cleverly wrapped gifts, even their tree was an opportunity to display an alternative viewpoint. One Christmas it was decorated with Crest toothpaste boxes that had been saved all year. It seemed to be a kind of yuletide homage to pop art. Another year it was tampons.

Postcard, Untitled (elbow to elbow / cheek to cheek), Ray Johnson, n.d.

Postcard, David Sedaris, 1979

Poor Lou. His hold on patriarchal supremacy was tenuous at best.

I think this attention to the seasons helps explain David’s devotion to finishing one diary and beginning another in conjunction with the year’s solstices and equinoxes. While we’re adjusting our clocks forward or backward, he’s picking out a new diary cover.

David has always had a well-developed, almost obsessive, work ethic, and it is easy to see how his pursuit of physical labor and the experiences that came out of it are integral to his writing.

Both to record his experiences and to stay in touch with family and friends during his extensive travel, he used various creative forms of correspondence (see here). It was a time in the culture when art was being made in nontraditional forms and formats, and the mail was embraced as a liberating and appropriate vehicle of expression.

In the fifties and sixties, a group of loosely linked international artists called Fluxus were making art “that subverted the inherited abstract value system—large, heroic, ambitious, and sexist—favoring an art that was intimate, ephemeral, and highly poetic” (Robert Pincus-Witten, in his introduction to Jon Hendricks’s Fluxus Codex). Mail art was a natural extension and expression of these new directions and practices—it was a form of art on a personal scale that used an easily accessible and democratic means of distribution.

It was also notably popularized by the interactive mailings of artist Ray Johnson in the sixties and seventies. Creator of the New York Correspondance [sic] School, he commonly sent mail directing a recipient to “please send to…” or “please add to and return” or “please add and send to,” fostering a chain of connections.

From 1968 to 1979, conceptual artist On Kawara created and mailed a series of postcards stamped with the day’s date and, in large capital letters, “I GOT UP AT” and the time. They were an extreme example of a nonintimate/objective diary entry. It was a simple, elegant, and factual declaration of process and presence in the world that used the postal system for dissemination and maintained connections with people around the world.

David was continuously creating his own hybrid of correspondence art, including postcards featuring journey-themed imagery and short poem-like declarations. He used these elements along with the visual lexicon of postal officialdom and verification—postage stamps, cancellation marks, baggage tags, stubs, receipts, and the ubiquitous rubber stamp. He also employed unusual materials for his mailings: overlays of acetate and window-screen mesh with some of the resulting layers attached with staples and string. It gave him the opportunity to keep making visual art, write and stay connected to friends, and remain active in an artistic community while traveling. David would sometimes make his cards prior to leaving on a trip, have some of us pick the ones we liked and address them to ourselves, and later send them to us from his far-flung outposts.

Postcards, David Sedaris, 1979–1980

Postcard (front and back), David Sedaris, 1980

David’s start in documenting his travels for himself and others resulted in Diary No. 1, Loose Papers Collected in a Box, September 5 to December 21, 1977 (here). It was a piecemeal effort at first, with notes, observations, sketches, and collected ephemera—all the elements to be kept in future diaries—now unbound and stuffed unceremoniously into an empty Kodak photographic paper box. This unwieldy effort led him next to use hardbound sketchbooks (Nos. 2–23) and, later, the plastic- and wire-bound volumes.

The content, methods, and materials that he adapted in the early diaries would continue to be part of his process for years. He would also go on to develop his talent for recording the evidence and eccentricities of an observed life. In a time of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there is something a bit quaint in his unceasing devotion to the handmade diary. He did, however, eventually switch from typewriter to laptop. “In 2000, Hugh gave me a laptop computer I never asked for,” he said. “I put it on a shelf and took it down a few months later, thinking, Well, it is pretty. I started writing my diary on it and printing out the pages at the end of every season.”

David was a visual artist before he became a writer. He denies it now, but he was obviously skilled at drawing and making things, and he naturally combined the two in his journals. He also often paired words and letterforms with imagery, and this became a consistent pattern in his diaries. In hindsight, it’s notable that many of his interests, from drawing, painting, and writing to photography, printmaking, and bookbinding, all end up in the service of creating books—published or otherwise.

What is evident in the early diaries is his predilection for collage. A word coined by the early twentieth century’s dueling duo Picasso and Braque, collage became an integral part of the modern art world’s vocabulary and methodology. David’s early diaries adopt this tradition of layering and overlap, and he recognizes the intrinsic communicative value of our culture’s ceaseless flood of ephemera and markings. He used tape, glue, and scissors to adhere his sketches and found materials into the diaries. His bookmaking technique evolves over time, and with the adoption of self-binding methods (beginning with No. 24) and his growing emphasis on the placement of written entries in separate areas of the diary, a different form of collage emerges. With the new binding, he is able to include and accurately place a range of different materials and media. The strata of the irregular-sized pages create a kind of kinetic assemblage—a dynamic, interactive format in which there is meaning in sequence and each new turn of the page presents shifting associations and often amusing or bizarre juxtapositions. The odd scrap or found fragment is frequently elevated and given singular status.

There is a kind of full-circle synchronicity at play here, where the use of the scrap—the overlooked and discarded element found in his collage—seems to parallel the overheard or observed interaction that his writing favors.

In Raleigh in the seventies and early eighties, there was an enthusiastic embrace of a kind of punk aesthetic, among others. I don’t believe David had much interest in the punk social scene or the music—Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell still held sway—but graphically, the rejection of traditional standards and methods and the creative viability of the raw and the damaged suggested a wealth of new source material. Bits of weather-worn cardboard or the skeletal remains of pigeons found in abandoned buildings, combined with the instant and disposable production values of the Polaroid and the Xerox machine, perfectly suited David’s diary entries. The earliest diaries reflect this interest in discarded one-offs found in the gutter and the raw accessibility of mechanical reproduction. This faded and distressed imagery suggests the ephemeral nature of the present and that the past’s afterimage is only a few photocopies from disappearing entirely.

Walter Benjamin may have famously stated that the reproduction of original images and artwork takes away their uniqueness, their “aura,” but David and others might point out that media and imagery that are absorbed into the culture and physically transformed by the environment have begun a cycle back to uniqueness and may ultimately express something independent from their original form and intent. Forces both natural and man-made continually alter and deface the abandoned artifact. Time also alters our regard for imagery, from generating nostalgia to revealing the absurdity of an earlier attitude or viewpoint.

Play invitation (outside front, inside, photo paper insert), David Sedaris, 1981

David also continued to paint and make things that were exhibited and collected. His sculptures were included in a North Carolina Museum of Art show in 1980; a show of his paintings titled Flashcards was exhibited at the NCSU School of Design in 1981; and his work was included in an exhibit at SECCA (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art) in 1983, among others, all of which gained him the notice of collectors and galleries.


  • "Fans of Sedaris's acerbic wit will want to check out this stunning new diary compilation...the writer's worldview comes to gorgeous, bitingly funny life."—Entertainment Weekly

On Sale
Oct 10, 2017
Page Count
256 pages

David Sedaris

About the Author

David Sedaris is the author of the books Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Holidays on Ice, Naked, and Barrel Fever. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and BBC Radio 4. He lives in England.

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Jeffrey Jenkins

About the Author

Jeffrey Jenkins is an artist and graphic designer whose artwork and collections-based projects have been exhibited in the United States and Europe. His design studios, Jenkins & Page and Jeffrey Jenkins Projects, have created print and interactive media for clients including the New York Times, Time Life, Giorgio Armani, and the National Audubon Society, as well as designed a range of books, book covers, and artists’ catalogues. He lives in New York City

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