45 pages 1 hour read

David Sedaris


Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1997

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Summary and Study Guide


Naked (1997) is a collection of personal essays written by David Sedaris. These essays chart Sedaris’s youth in more-or-less chronological order, starting with childhood and ending in adulthood. These essays largely describe formative events throughout the author’s life—such as near-death experiences and struggles with mental illness—but they also share more trivial anecdotes, like his memories of his grandmother’s eccentric behavior and his father’s propensity to lie. These loosely connected essays come together to complete a metanarrative built around Sedaris’s ability to understand himself and other people. This book begins with an author’s note that states, “The events described in these stories are real. Other than the family members, the characters have fictitious names and identifying characteristics” (2). For brevity, this guide will refer to each essay as a chapter.

Naked is David Sedaris’s third book of essays after Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays (1994) and Holiday Fever (1997). Several of these essays were read on This American Life prior to the collection’s publication. In 1998, Naked won the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Non-Fiction. Chapter 14, “C.O.G.,” was adapted into a full-length film in 2013. According to the author’s website, his books are published in over 25 languages, and over 10 million copies have been sold.

Content warning: This book contains discussion of severe mental illness, child abuse, elder abuse, abuse of psychiatric patients, racism, sexism, ableism, anti-gay speech, antisemitism, explicit language (including racist, sexist, ableist, and anti-queer epithets), sexual assault, discussion of pornography, discussion of sex/sexuality, and sexual taboos (e.g., incest, zoophilia).


“Chipped Beef” begins with a fictionalized account of Sedaris’s childhood, wherein he and his family are wealthy and beloved aristocrats. It ends with a look at his real, middle-class life and his early relationship with his mother, Sharon.

“A Plague of Tics” concerns young David’s struggles with tics and compulsions. His family and teachers are consistently unhelpful and even exacerbate the problem. David ultimately learns to quell his compulsions in college, where he begins self-medicating with cigarettes.

“Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!” is about David’s paternal grandmother, whom he and his siblings referred to as Ya Ya. She is an eccentric and domineering Greek immigrant who moves into the Sedarises’ home. She and Sharon clash, so the family moves Ya Ya to a series of retirement homes. She dies when David is in college.

“Next of Kin” is a brief anecdote about Next of Kin, an erotic novel that David discovers when he is 13. He and his sisters pore over it and—due to its incestuous content—begin to suspect that their parents will prey on them sexually. David later disposes of the book.

“Cyclops” is about the myriad cautionary tales his father Louis tells his children. These stories terrified David as a child and exacerbated his anxiety. As an adult, he learns that his father made all of them up.

In “The Women’s Open,” David’s eldest sister, Lisa, gets her first period while watching a golf tournament with David and their father.

“True Detective” is about Lisa and Sharon’s love of detective fiction and mysteries. David ties this to a series of mischievous “crimes” committed around their household. While hunting for the culprit, David watches his mother put on a wig to entertain herself while she paints her toenails.

“Dix Hill” is about David’s volunteer work at a local state sanatorium. He discusses the abhorrent conditions in the psychiatric ward, as well as his maternal grandfather’s history of psychosis and shock treatment.

“I Like Guys” is concerned with David’s childhood experiences with racial integration in the 1960s and anti-gay attitudes—both external and internal—that he deals with as a closeted gay teen. He has his first sexual experience with another boy at summer camp in Greece. The boy tries to out David to the other campers.

“The Drama Bug” regards David’s teenage obsession with theater and Shakespeare. After watching a visiting actor perform for his class, David and his friend Lois sign up to play bit roles in a local performance of Hamlet. David’s castmates completely ignore him, despite his efforts.

“Dinah, the Christmas Whore” recounts David’s developing disillusionment with the holiday season. Four days before Christmas, Lisa helps her friend from work—an aging sex worker named Dinah—get out of a bad situation. David is proud of his family’s kindness toward Dinah.

“Planet of the Apes” details young David’s experiences with hitchhiking. He starts by hitching short rides and amuses himself by telling strangers lies about himself. Later, he begins to hitchhike cross-country and finds himself riding with dangerous people.

“The Incomplete Quad” is about David’s friendship with Peg, a quadriplegic girl with a degenerative nerve condition. As her college dormmate, David sees to Peg’s basic needs, as she is unable to care for herself. He spends much of this chapter remarking on the trials she faces and the difficulties associated with caring for her.

“C.O.G.” describes David’s experiences with manual labor in Oregon. He starts out as an apple-picker and then works at a processing plant. After avoiding sexual assault from one of his coworkers at the plant, he begins working for a fanatical Christian who calls himself a C.O.G. (child of God).

“Something for Everyone” focuses on David’s search for work fresh out of college. He takes a job refinishing woodwork for an antisemitic Lithuanian lesbian named Uta. He works alongside a Black man named Dupont, who radically alters his behavior based on whom he’s interacting with.

“Ashes” intertwines the story of Lisa’s wedding and Sharon’s lung cancer diagnosis. David and his siblings struggle with the knowledge that their mother is dying. The chapter is named for Sharon’s desire to be cremated and her propensity to chain-smoke.

“Naked” details David’s week-long vacation to a nudist park. Although he is initially uncomfortable and anxious, he becomes more comfortable with public nudity by the end of his stay.