David Sedaris Writes Better Opening Lines Than You

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David Sedaris Writes Better Opening Lines Than You

David Sedaris writes better opening lines than you. 

I just did a reread of David Sedaris’ masterpiece, Naked, and since it reminded me over and over and over again, I felt like I should remind you too:

David Sedaris writes killer opening lines.  

He’s better than you, he’s better than me. 

He’s just… an absolute all-timer with his opening sentences. 

Ever since the revisit, I’ve been struggling to read most people’s writing online. Extra. But the upshot is I keep re-opening the book for inspiration.

Which brings us here today.

Let’s hit FIVE of my favorite openers from Naked.


It was for many years my family’s habit to drive from North Carolina to western New York State to visit the relatives we had left behind. 

The family we left behind. Proactively. You know you want to know where that leads (which is, to Ya Ya’s s***hole of an apartment, where his father was raised, and it is immaculately described). 


My mother had a thing for detectives, be they old, blind, or paralyzed from the waist down — she just couldn’t get enough. My older sister shared her interest. Detective worship became something they practiced together, swapping plotlines the way other mothers and daughters exchanged recipes or grooming tips. 

First off, knowing your mother has a thing, then bringing in the idea of even if they’re “paralyzed from the waist down,” only to add your sisters shared fascination too? Masterful.  


It started following an all-day “Plant of the Apes” marathon held at a budget theater a mile or so from my parents’ house. 

That’s as basic as Sedaris gets and it’s still so specifically curiosity-inducing I could throw the book.  


The day after graduating from college, I found fifty dollars in the foyer of my Chicago apartment building. The single bill had been folded into eighths and was packed with cocaine. It occurred to me then that if I played my cards right, I might never have to find a job. People lost things all the time. 

A naïve thought carried into a naïve future, with the least naïve assumptions imaginable tucked neatly into the corners so you have to look twice. 


The moment I realized I would be a homosexual for the rest of my life, I forced my brother and sisters to sign a contract swearing they’d never get married.

You can practically go word by word through that one. “The moment I realized” is a gunshot. The “I would be a homosexual for the rest of my life “permanence is a bullet hitting with a thud. The obligatory “you too” sibling contract, see also the “relatives we left behind” from the prior chapter point, is the spurting of blood. You can’t look away. You have to press on. 

I could write about every opening from this entire book. Every ending too. And the middles? 

OK, one middle, because this is the real reason why I’ll still revisit this book. 


Regarding his mother, a keystone of his family, and their relationship - mostly based on discussing others, he writes, 

I’d always been afraid of sick people, and so had my mother. It wasn’t that we feared catching their brain aneurysm or accidentally ripping out their I.V. I think it was their fortitude that frightened us. Sick people reminded us not of what we had, but of what we lacked. Everything we said sounded petty and insignificant; our complaints paled in the face of theirs, and without our complaints, there was nothing to say. My mother and I had been fine over the telephone, but now, face to face, the rules had changed. If she were to complain, she risked being seen as a sick complainer, the word kind of all. If I were to do it, I might come off sounding even more selfish than I actually was. This sudden turn of events had robbed us of our common language, leaving us to exchange the same innocuous pleasantries we’d always made fun of. I wanted to stop it and so, I think, did she, but neither of us knew how. 

This is Sedaris at his best. Not the opener, but midstory. Leaving a heartbreaking and raw piece of humanity for us to smile and cry over, at the same time, tucked into a lyrically gorgeous openings and closings.  

It’s all language. 

Remove the personal from it, and you’re left with “innocuous pleasantries.” 

Don’t open, close, or fill the middle with innocuous pleasantries, ever. 

And read Naked. You might even learn something.

ps. I did a YouTube review of this too - check it out: