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Mr. Nice Guy 

David Sedaris on fame, family and listening to people complain

click to enlarge Dress Your Family in Courduroy and Denim
  • Dress Your Family in Courduroy and Denim

When I am connected to David Sedaris' hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis, an assistant answers and briskly asks: "Can he call you back in five minutes? He's trying to eat a bite of a sandwich."

Sure, I agree. After all, this is Sedaris' eighth city in 11 days on the U.S. tour promoting his new book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. From St. Louis, he will travel to Raleigh, N.C., then to Washington, Boston, Houston, Austin, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Scottsdale, en route to Denver and a signing at the Tattered Cover on June 23.

Booking an interview with his New York publicist was like booking a flight on a crowded airplane: Yes, I think he has 15 minutes at 2:40 central time on June 11. Does that work for you? Hold please.

Sedaris' success over the past five years can fairly be described as meteoric. Just six years ago, he was being discovered by public radio fans courtesy of This American Life producer Ira Glass who made his name a household word and his lisping, high-pitched voice a sought-after commodity. Around that time, Sedaris showed up in Colorado Springs for a signing at the Chapel Hills Borders bookstore. After he read and signed for a group of roughly 40 people, I sat with him outside at a sidewalk table and chatted for a half-hour. A few days later, a thank-you note arrived at my office, typed with a portable typewriter on linen stationery -- a note from Sedaris, thanking me for the interview.

Since then, his books have sold over 2 million copies. His last collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day, has sold over 1 million copies to date and spent 73 weeks on New York Times best-seller lists. Dress Your Family is destined for a similar fate.

Exactly five minutes pass before my phone rings.

"This is David calling. Haven't we met before? Didn't we have coffee at a little table out on the sidewalk at a mall a few years back? You had a friend with you?"

Incredible. Hundreds of cities and several book tours later, with international fame, homes in France and London, and another certain bestseller on his hands, Sedaris is still the nicest guy imaginable. We talk while he signs what he describes as "a dike" of books piled up in his hotel room.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim goes back to Sedaris' suburban family life in 1960s and 1970s North Carolina, visiting the familiar territory of feeling like an outsider in the world of "normal" people. Many of his stories explore the social ambitions of middle Americans and the class distinctions separating "us" from "them."

Have fame and wealth changed Sedaris, as a recent New York Times profile tried hard to suggest?

"You know, it (fame) won't even be an issue at the end of the tour," he said. "I'll be spending the summer in Normandy where Hugh (his partner) and I have a house in a village of 12 people who know I'm an author but haven't read my book. My life there is the complete opposite of the life I'm living this month (23 cities in 31 days, auditoriums packed with adoring fans, and an appearance on David Letterman's Late Show).

"And regarding how rich I am (according to the New York Times), if that were the case, I might have ... a car? I would have suits, real things to show for it."

click to enlarge David Sedaris
  • David Sedaris

Writers can be super-famous and still remain anonymous, contends Sedaris, who is amazed that people continue to buy his books and enjoy the weird stories he tells about his family and his personal life.

Is there plenty more family material or has he mined it all?

"Oh, there's plenty more," he said. "Just the other day my sister called and asked me if I remembered a masturbating monkey she gave my brother ..."

Sedaris' sisters and brother, who have become familiar to loyal readers, often help him recall stories from their shared past, stories he turns into his signature personal essays.

"They often do help me," he said. "And when I make stuff up, I say, 'Don't you remember?' And they've done so many drugs, they say, 'Ohhhhh, yeeeah. I remember that.'"

When on tour, Sedaris makes it a habit to promote a book he has read recently. This time around, he's urging his fans to buy Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family, a gritty, true-life chronicle of 10 years in the life of an extended South Bronx family.

"The goal would be to get people to read it, but if they buy it, that's good enough," said Sedaris, who estimates as many as 70 copies of Random Family have sold at some of his readings. "I could never do that with my own stuff, you know, say, 'Hey, you've got to buy my book.'"

Sedaris spends most of his time now in London where he has taken what he refers to as "a little job," volunteering at a drop-in center for senior citizens.

"When people ask me what I do, I tell them I listen to people complain," he said. "It's great. If you know there's nothing you can do about it anyway, it's great listening to people complain.

"And if I have a bad day, I just think to myself, six months from now I'll be on a book tour."

capsule

David Sedaris will sign and read from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Tattered Cover Bookstore LoDo, 1628 16th St. at Wynkoop, Denver

Wednesday, June 23, 7 p.m.

Call 303/436-1070 for information on how to get a ticket for limited seating

  • David Sedaris on fame, family and listening to people complain

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