A Carnival of Snackery
- By David Sedaris
- Little, Brown and Company
- 576 pp.
- Reviewed by Andrée Rose Catalfamo
- November 19, 2022
Though witty, this volume isn’t the best starting point for Sedaris neophytes.
There’s no real connective tissue among many of the entries, which a reader new to Sedaris’ work might find disconcerting. People move in and out of the picture; unless you’re familiar with his biography, you might not know who Gretchen and Amy are, for instance, although the author clearly thinks you should. (Try not to take it as a giant hole in your cultural knowledge if you don’t.)
This lack of context becomes wearisome after a while. One reads a Sedaris book for the wry humor and pointed observations, not to sit there and put puzzle pieces together. Unless you like that sort of thing.
Sedaris uses short character sketches to at once get to know and keep his distance from the hundreds of people he meets at his lengthy book signings. He seems especially fond of recording the musings of those who drive him to and from airports and appearances; there’s a sense that he thinks these people live stories that need telling. At the same time, he counts himself lucky that his life is so much more fortunate than theirs.
Sometimes, he revels to excess in that fortune, as when he muses on spending thousands of dollars on clothing that makes him “look like a tramp,” while surely knowing most of his readers lack the funds for such trivial spending. A little of this humble-bragging goes a long way; unfortunately, the book’s early pages are full of it.
The collection becomes more human when it slows down in the later years. After settling in New York (more or less; he flits back and forth across the Atlantic with alacrity), Sedaris turns his attention to his aging father and to his own life and purpose. This is not to suggest the author engages in navel-gazing; he merely pulls back occasionally and allows life to happen rather than bouncing and swaggering through it.
He begins taking long walks (18 miles or more most days) and picking up roadside litter — bags and bags of it. His restlessness is apparent, as is his growing need for contemplation. Perhaps his interest in the trappings of fame began to wane; perhaps it’s merely the readjustment of his priorities as he ages. Either way, Sedaris’ humanity finally begins to show, making him a more appealing character.
And then covid-19 happens. Sedaris, the flaneur, is trapped, as we all were, by the virus and its accompanying restrictions. While he still sees the crisis from his silo (“When the pandemic hit, my first thought wasn’t Oh those poor dying people but What about my airline status?”), his outlook becomes more outwardly focused. In thinking about how his audience suddenly became limited to family and friends, he notes:
“Without the tours, I still managed to make some money, but that was never what I was in it for. What I loved was the attention. How had I never realized the extent to which it sustained me?”
Sedaris’ evolution will be fascinating to longtime fans; they’ll love these insights into his life. However, as an entry point for readers new to his work, A Carnival of Snackery has its limitations. It’s rather like eating a bowlful of leftover Halloween candy for dinner when you really should be sitting down to a hearty sandwich. Sedaris serves up the latter in other books; in this one, you get the former.
[Editor's note: This review originally ran in 2021.]
Andrée Rose Catalfamo is a writer and English professor. Her work has appeared in Welcome to Baltimore, Hon!, Under the Gum Tree, Yellow Arrow Journal, Passager, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a memoir and a novel of historical fiction about East Baltimore. She lives happily with her husband, Burt, and their maniacal Jack Russell Terrier, Bella, in Binghamton, NY.