If you were like me, and there are probably just a handful of us, you have not read a David Sedaris collection of essays. I corrected that huge hole in my life last year at the urging of my daughter Kate. I am now a committed Sedaris fan and reader. If you have yet to experience Sedaris’s writings, and you get one of his books, I believe you will be too.
David is something of an anomaly in today’s world. He doesn’t drive, he has no smartphone. Email? Not in his lexicon — he couldn’t care less.
Sound like a bit of a hermit? Nothing could be further from the truth. He thrives on meeting his readers, he takes long — and I mean long — book tours (73 cites in his first tour after COVID, 43 cities in his most recent tour), not just to sell books, but to draw ideas and reactions from his readers. He reads them his new material, developing his essays, incorporating audience reaction and feedback into his work.
However those idiosyncrasies made it difficult to book him for our ABC podcast, “The Book Case with Kate and Charlie”. His latest book, “Happy-Go-Lucky”, came out in May of 2022. As admirers of his, and believing he would make a great conversation for the podcast, we immediately tried to book him.
“Let’s do it by Zoom?” Perish the thought. “We could just use a phone hookup?” Not in the cards. It would have to be in person — we’d have to wait ’til he came to New York (he lives in France and the UK) — and Kate and I would have to both be present (she lives in Minneapolis). He likes to have his interviews in person — where he can truly react to his interviewers. That’s a lot of conditions. Oh yes, and make it in the late afternoon — David doesn’t like doing anything before 2 pm Parenthetically, even though I hosted a 7 am television program for 19 years, I completely sympathize with that.
Well, that’s a lot of conditions. However, both Kate and I thought talking to David Sedaris would be more than worth any wait. So we waited until early December of last year when all three of us were in New York. We think it was more than worth it — and if you give a listen to the podcasts posted Jan. 5 and 12, we think you’ll agree.
And yes, that’s two podcasts. Not our usual MO, but we got so enthralled talking to David, our conversation went on for almost two hours, and we decided if we were going to keep in most of the “good stuff”, we’d have to make it two programs .
As his readers know, David is funny. Would humorous be a better word? perhaps Either way you find yourself laughing or chuckling out loud as you read his essays or listen to him talk. Learning to speak French, encounters with a speech therapist who encouraged David never to use a word with an ‘s’, taxidermy, a 4th grade class trip to a tobacco factory, a discussion of diabetes in owls (don’t ask), even his experiences playing a Christmas elf at Macy’s. All these are wonderful targets for his most amusing observations.
Even his life story is amazing. College dropout, no prospects, picking apples in orchards, into drugs, and yes, playing a Christmas elf — David still had a driving ambition to “be somebody”.
“I wound up living in a little town in Oregon and I was picking apples and pears and working in a cannery. And I got a library card … and I just started reading the kind of books that we were supposed to read in high school, and then those led to other books, and eventually, I just discovered how moved I could be by, you know, a novel or a short story,” he said during our podcast conversation.
“And I guess I thought, ‘What would it be like to be able to do that to somebody else?’ To make somebody, I don’t know, feel something is the right word, but to get them to pay attention, even? To get them to turn a page would be an accomplishment, you know? And I knew that it was going to take a long time.”
David didn’t realize for a while that his habit of writing about his experiences would eventually be his ticket to fortune. His unorthodox family life also gave him numerous subjects for essays.
“I was just reading out loud one night, at this place, and Ira Glass from National Public Radio was in the audience, and he heard me read. And then he called a couple years later and said, ‘Do you have anything Christmas year that would work for a local radio show that he had in Chicago?’ So I had worked at Macy’s as an elf for a couple of years. And so I wrote about that,” he said.
“…I think the biggest audience I’d had with reading in front of people was like 500 people. And so then I went from 500 people to 10 million people overnight. But that’s how many people listened when he put it on ‘ Morning Edition’. And it was amazing. My life just changed overnight, you know?”
David Sedaris is someone who loves interacting with his readers, but seems quite shy in nature. He was belittled by his father, but was burning with ambition. He is funny, but also poignant. He is humorous without seeming to be trying to be funny. But in talking to him, you get an idea of how much of a perfectionist he is in his writings.
Two podcasts? A departure for us but well worth the time to listen to one of America’s (sure he lives mostly in France but he’s ours) most original writers. Even his book titles get you smiling — “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “Holidays on Ice,” “Carnival of Snackery,” “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” even “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.” There’s lots to choose from.
All good. We hope you enjoy them, we sure enjoyed getting to know David.
New episodes of ABC’s “The Book Case” podcast are posted every Thursday. For a list of all the books recommended in the podcast, click here.