Friday, June 13, 2008

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

I love David Sedaris. I'm trying to remember when I was first introduced to his writing, and I think it was in college by my best friend and also a fellow co-worker. After I read Me Talk Pretty One Day, I was hooked. It still remains my favorite collection of his. I even asked for a New Yorker subscription for my birthday - half the reason was to check each week for a new Sedaris story. (While The New Yorker is a great pub, I never had the time to read the whole thing each week on top of working, eating, sleeping and all the other magazines and books I read - thing's dense!)

Sedaris got his "big break" when he recorded his reading of SantaLand Diaries for Ira Glass' Chicago radio morning show several years back (Sedaris is still a frequent contributor to This American Life). This is one of the funniest stories I've ever heard/read. Sedaris does a lot of what I call immersion writing - throwing himself into possibly humorous situations and seeing what comes of it. For SantaLand Diaries, he worked as an elf at Macy's. This is probably his most famous work, yet in his mind, it's one of his least favorites. However, I listened to a podcast with him recently and he seems to dislike many of his stories once they've been published - he's ready to move on. (I also love his stories about being a house painter, a mover and a cleaner - though I can't remember what books those fall in. Me Talk Pretty One Day is about living in Paris, and not speaking the language. Sedaris and his partner Hugh live abroad a majority of the time.)

Sedaris is self-deprecating, humble being. His life situations are very entertaining to read about, yet he personally doesn't understand what the fuss is all about. He keeps a diary, something he writes in every day and indexes every season so he can use it as a reference later. He goes on 30-city lecture tours twice a year, trying out new material. He'll read stories and gauge the audience reaction - rewriting later that night if need be, or trashing something that bombed. He's not a comedian, but his process seems similar.

His latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is what I'm reading now. I just started, so thoughts to come later. However, Sedaris stops in the Twin Cities this weekend. I can't make these engagements, but maybe when he returns in the fall. His lectures are always packed, so arriving early is important.

Today, Friday June 13: University of Minnesota bookstore, 7 p.m.
Saturday June 14: Borders in Roseville, 1 p.m.
October 19: State Theater, 7 p.m.

Who else loves Sedaris? Do you have a favorite essay of his?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love him, too! I have his books on audio (up to "Dress your Family..") and listen to them at least once a year. They never get old!

My fav is "6-8 Black Men." Another holiday story about the Dutch St. Nick and bookended by gun laws that allow the blind to hunt.