David Sedaris: ‘Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is pretty much the best thing ever’

The comic essayist on crying over Olive Kitteridge, his love for Richard Yates and the books that make him laugh

The book I am currently reading
Hidden Valley Road. It’s a nonfiction book about a family with 12 children, half of whom turn out to be schizophrenic. In the opening pages the mother sews a live bird’s eyes shut. And she’s one of the few who isn’t mentally ill!

The book that changed my life
Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. A friend read it out aloud to me when we were hitchhiking across America in 1976, and it made me think:That’s right – books! After high school I had forgotten about them. As soon as I got a stable address, I secured a library card, and started making up for lost time.

The book I wish I’d written
Gosh, there are millions. Today I’ll go with Susan Sheehan’s Is There No Place on Earth for Me?, a nonfiction account of a young woman with schizophrenia and her many hospitalisations. (I notice a theme developing!) All Sheehan’s books are masterpieces. Another good one of hers is A Prison and a Prisoner.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?. It made me remember that a person could construct very simple sentences. It made writing seem possible.

The book that is most underrated
Richard Yates is mainly known for his novel Revolutionary Road, but I think The Easter Parade is just as good. His attitude towards women seems dated now – who still thinks of spinsterhood? – but you can’t fault his word-by-word writing.

The last book that made me cry
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. I was struck by the main character’s inability to connect with her son.

The last book that made me laugh
Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories. Also Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World. I roared when one of the characters buys a Whopper at Burger King figuring he can heat it up on his wood stove.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
Anything by Denton Welch. The smartest people I know have all recommended him to me.

The book I give as a gift
I’ve bought countless copies of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads. Now, of course, people are more apt to download it on Audible or something, so it’s less of a gift, something to press into someone’s hands. It’s pretty much the best thing ever, though.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
The one after the one I’m working on now. It’s going to be so… excellent. Maybe.

My earliest reading memory
The Wizard of Oz, just because I’d seen the movie.

My comfort read
Once a year I read The Easter Parade, followed by Revolutionary Road, and every time I find something new to admire.

Themes and Variations by David Sedaris is published by Amazon.

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