A Welcome and a Definition

Culture Vulture: "A person with a strong, sometimes obsessive, interest in the arts." Culture Vultures spend a lot of time observing the world. This is where those observations come out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sedaris vs. Burroughs

I was having a conversation with friends about going to see David Sedaris when he comes to town to speak next year. I casually mentioned that I wasn't sure I wanted to go, and added I much prefer Augusten Burroughs. My friends basically replied to me that Augusten Burroughs wrote one fabulous book and several terrible ones. Au contraire, I said! This got me thinking about the merits and demerits of both authors.

Sedaris: Now I will give Sedaris credit for basically being the first commercial writer in contemporary times to write these confessional essays/ novels. I think, as a society, we've become more confessional, and his books came out just as we made that leap. Sedaris' work is consistently good. While many people hold up Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day as his best works, pretty much all his work is on par. However, I think his work can be too staid sometimes. He is very mainstream because he is confessional but it doesn't really offend. I don't think Sedaris really pushes the boundaries often.

Burroughs: Okay, everyone knows Running with Scissors was wonderful (However, don't watch the movie!). I will agree with my friends the point that nothing Burroughs wrote so far has stood up to Running. However, I have to disagree that nothing else he wrote was notable. My second favorite by him is Magical Thinking, which is more a collection of essays than a memoir. I also enjoyed Dry but that may have been because I read it first, before Running. I think that is the biggest problem with Burroughs: he released his best book first, so everything pales in comparison.

One thing I do appreciate about Burroughs is his ability to take some horrific events and writes about them in a such a way that shows the humor in them. He can be macabre, but I think for the most part, it works well. Sometimes his quality does fluctuate (I just barely got through Wolf at the Table), but I think overall his genius separates him from Sedaris.

I know I am in the minority on this, so feel free to leave a comment and respond.


  1. "I don't think Sedaris really pushes the boundaries often." I don't know about this. Some of his stuff (the story about exchange student written all into a family Christmas letter, for example) is really inventive and twisted. I think what's funny about it is how many older women have secretly taken to him.

  2. I have to say, though I like Burroughs' work and I've been meaning to read Dry, Sedaris consistently wins my heart. Burroughs is a talented writer and everything you said about him was spot-on, but I tend to think he sensationalizes things a bit in his writing; perhaps it's because he writes about much more horrific things than Sedaris does, but I can get a little irked by Burroughs' style at times. And yes, the movie version of RWS was one of the worst things I've ever seen. I made a special trip to the theater by myself and I was so disappointed.

  3. Since we already spoke about this, you know that I prefer Sedaris and for many of the reasons Jaclyn just stated. Burroughs is a good writer and deserves some praise and I've liked most of his books, but he is a little over the top. Like I tell my students, you don't have to write about the most horrible events to have a great piece. Sedaris brings humor and insight into relationships and family dynamics that I don't think Burroughs comes close to capturing. I always feel connected to Sedaris when I'm reading him, but with Burroughs I always feel like the outsider looking in on this crazed landscape. Both styles can be fun and effective, but Sedaris is someone I could come back to over and over again and Burroughs isn't.

  4. For me Running With Scissors was a rather shocking story with humorous aspects. But mostly just sad and disturbing. So I prefer the works of David Sedaris, they are more fun to read.