It almost seems like David Sedaris is more industry than author. He travels the world on lecture tours, draws huge crowds for his countless readings and scales the bestseller lists with each new book. His latest, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, mixes the essays for which he’s famous – bitingly funny, reflective, even poignant – with shorter, fictional monologues. Here, he reflects on how his influences have shaped his work.
When you started to write, which writers did you revere?
When I started to write, it was Raymond Carver, because he made writing look easy. But when I tried to write a story like that, I realized it was so much harder than it looked. Flannery O’Connor meant a lot to me, too, because she’s funny. A lot of people talk about her for her Catholicism, her Southern Gothic style. I always felt I was missing out because I didn’t appreciate those aspects of her work. But I don’t think anyone appreciates her as a comic writer more than me. I’m just there for the laughs.
What is the most dangerous type of influence for a young writer?
I think it’s important to read with a generous spirit. If you’re going to pick up a book and say, “I’ll never be that good,” well, it’s not about you. Just celebrate the fact that anyone’s that good. When I read something great, I know I’ll never be that good. But the fact that anyone can be that good is beautiful to me.
Which book shares a commonality with Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls?
The Braindead Megaphone. I love George Saunders, and I love that he juxtaposed essays and fictional pieces.
I hadn’t thought of the connection with George’s book until after mine came out. I mean, I couldn’t do anything as well as George Saunders does. But I’m not going to let that get me down.
Which authors do you think are most influential today?
Everyone I know who writes loves Richard Yates. Even though I can’t really think of anyone who writes like Richard Yates, as a craftsman he influenced a lot of people. I reread his Easter Parade every year, just to marvel at it.
If you could influence your younger self, what would you try to change?
My advice would be to lose 1,000 words. A lot of my early stories were written before I was going on tour and reading things out loud. The one time I read After Malison, from Barrel Fever, I got to the second-to-last paragraph and someone stood up and said, “This is boring.” I should have listened to that person.
This interview, conducted by Jared Bland, has been condensed and edited.