When David Sedaris arrives at the Chapters Dartmouth at Mic Mac Mall on Wednesday, forgive him if he doesn't take in any local sights. The American playwright, author and New Yorker essayist is on a 60-city tour that ends in Listowel, Ireland, next June. This circuit follows a 35-day theatre lecture tour. Other than maybe The Wiggles, not many artists tour that hard, or enjoy such diehard fans.
Sedaris is here promoting Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, a modern-day bestiary illustrated by Eloise's Ian Falconer (review on page 18). The stories, like the vigilante rabbit callously unimpressed with a unicorn's powers, are bloody and brutal in their violence, and always smirky-funny. But something almost unicorn-magical happens when Sedaris reads them out loud: He can tell a story.
You've seen it: a small signing table stuck out in the mall, the writer waiting anxiously for someone, anyone, to approach with more than a question about the washroom's location. Or worse yet, the droning author holding a novel bursting with sticky notes marking the 20 passages he plans on reading, but must first set the context of his 500-page tome. (There's a reason book readings and launches are usually free.)
Then there's Sedaris. Even bigger than his three Grammy nominations for Best Spoken Word and Best Comedy Album, he made #25 on stuffwhitepeoplelike.com: "His stuff is kind of funny, but white people go crazy and will pay hundreds of dollars to hear him read from his own book. Let me say that again, they will pay money to see someone read from a book they have already read. They know the jokes are coming, they know the punch lines, but they feel the need to hear the author actually say it."
Also on White People's list: Public Radio and Apple Products. While our moms' Vinyl Cafe generation already embraced audio books, it was iTunes that really brought Sedaris's honey-coated, androgynous drawl to literary hipsterdom, and made Sedaris and NPR's Ira Glass its kings. Storytelling, the oldest form of entertainment, was embraced again.
Good storytelling, however, is an art form, and no podcast can fix a shitty tale. NPR's This American Life, to which Sedaris is a regular contributor regaling listeners with bizarre stories of his life and family, has a very specific style. The producers look for personal but universal stories with a plot, with distinct characters who often emerge changed after a conflict. Oh, and they're short in length. Some of the best stories, like those found in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, can be digested while eating your lunch burrito.
Sedaris recently told the Globe and Mail that he uses live readings and audience feedback to help compose his stories. Squirrel benefited from two weeks of rehearsal in Chicago and Berkeley. "It was advertised as a work in progress," he said. "So every night I read those animal stories for an hour, and just hammered on what I was having trouble with."
Chapters will be ridiculously packed Wednesday night, but, hey, at least you'll have a story to take home with you.
David Sedaris, Wednesday, November 24, 7pm, Chapters Dartmouth, 41 Mic Mac Boulevard, free