Tuesday, October 21, 2008

David Sedaris, live and in person...at a great distance

As much as I love reading, I think I love hearing stories read out loud even more. In college, I used to go to at least one or two author readings a week. Hearing writers read their stories was, at times, a transcendent experience. That’s something I remembered late last week when I had the opportunity to hear David Sedaris read in Ann Arbor. (Thanks for the ticket, Mary and Rob!) Ostensibly, Sedaris was there to read from his latest collection, “When You Are Engulfed In Flames,” but the minute he took the podium, he announced, “I’m not reading from that book. I’m incredibly sick of it.” Which proved to be a boon for the audience because it meant Sedaris instead read three unpublished essays and a series of excerpts from his diary, which he has kept for decades and from which he gleans the nuts and bolts of his stories. The event was held in a huge auditorium and Sedaris was just a tiny speck in the distance but still, that transcendent feeling was present.

If you’re a Sedaris fan, you’ll know that he’s been moving imperceptibly toward more serious essays, growing a little more reflective on life and its circumstances while still throwing in more than a few choice punchlines. He started off with a story about two trainrides he took years apart during which he met two very different men. The story was a wonderful meditation on the idea of love at first sight, on those flashes of attraction that take place once or twice in a lifetime but leave a lasting mark. It was a beautiful story and I’ll admit, I got a little choked up toward the end. He also read a piece about undecided voters that you can find here in the latest issue of The New Yorker. His last number was an absolutely uproarious story about being on a book tour and the horrifying awkwardness of pushing a shopping cart filled with nothing but condoms and strawberries with his brother-in-law at a Costco.

I was thrilled to see that Sedaris is taking on the Mandy Patinkin-style of stage show, which means basically that he’s thrown convention out the window and just decided to do weird stuff. (Mandy Patinkin’s concerts used to include moments when you could “come on stage and present me with gifts” and “come on stage and touch me.” They were pretty damn funny.) Anyway, Sedaris gives away gifts, he claims, to high school students who attend his readings because “they could be home getting drunk but instead they’ve come to see a middle aged man read out loud.” He also likes to take informal polls while signing books and thoroughly enjoys getting asked outrageous questions. One woman, he said, asked her to name her donkey. He blurted out, “Stephanie!” and then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening worrying he’d decided too quickly. Sedaris says he enjoys these minute-long meetings with his fans because, the older he’s gotten, he’s realized that one-minute is pretty much the ideal amount of time to spend with people. I can respect that.

If you have a chance to see Sedaris, you have to promise me you'll go. It's a great night out, it will remind you of how wonderful live readings can actually be and, if you have a donkey in need of naming, well, David's your man.

11 comments:

Jen said...

He's also generous enough with his time that he will take the time to actually sign books for everyone in (the LONG) line. Not only sign, but make little doodles as well, and chat with you!

The Husband said...

I can't believe that you went through a discussion of the signing period and didn't bring up the story of the last time you saw when he pulled me out of line to go get him a coffee at starbucks down the street.

Liz said...

I thought about it, but I was pretty sure I'd told that story on here sometime before.

liz said...

Man, that sounds great and I'm a bit jealous... but not as jealous as I am of all the people who got to touch Mandy Patinkin. Why did I not hear of that before?

I'll have to keep my eye opening for Sedaris happenings...

agent57 said...

Oh, hey... that last one was me, using my secret identity fake name... just to clear up any confusion. Darn google accounts, always tripping me up...

LaurieM said...

well this sucks. I didn't care for his last book (though I'm a huge fan of his earlier stuff), saw him last year, had a front row ticket to see him this weekend... and since I had been sick all week and worked all weekend, and it was an hour away... I blew it off. (Couldn't find anyone to take the ticket...) and now I hear I didn't have to sit through a discussion of his whole smoking in Japan thing again... sigh. always the regrets for things you DON'T do... lesson not well learned I guess... I do still have the little bottle of lotion he gave me last year when he signed my book... would love to have heared the train stories...sniff

Anonymous said...

he signed my friends book by drawing an owl that was saying "i like black people!" - no one even mentioned owls.

Marie said...

Sounds like a blast. I would love to see him read in person sometime!

Bakerloo said...

I had no idea about the "now you may touch me" part of Mandy's show. I presented this to Aaron as an oddity and he said, "Yeah, I know. I was one of those people. I touched his chest."


My mind. Blown.

topazsfp said...

Yeah, I got to see him in Lexington. Sounds like the same thing he did with us, except instead of the train essays he read one of his animal stories and a rejected essay (the humor was more in the listening) about pronunciation. I laughed so hard.
And he read an excerpt from someone else's book that he really liked, a guy named George Saunders. Which I thought was pretty neat.

Sarah said...

I saw him last year, when he was preparing for the release of his book. He read from his diary there, too. Some of it ended up in "When You Are Englufed..." but not all. My favorite thing was what he wrote on the day Marcel Marceau died:
"In honor of Marcel Marceau's death, I observed a moment of silence."

I think I might have been the only one in the auditorium who got it (besides Sedaris, who cracked up in the middle of reading), but I laughed so hard.