Tuesday, October 19, 2010

David Sedaris Visits Charlotte; Signs 'Squirrel', Sings Praises

Photo by Anne Fishbein

Almost every year, America’s beloved humorist and best-selling author David Sedaris visits Charlotte to read from his latest work, albeit a book, an essay or even bits from his journal. This week, the author’s visit to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center featured a happier, shinier version of the author who enchanted the packed Belk Theater leaving the audience more uplifted and enlightened than when they arrived.

Sedaris fans are an interesting cross section of the community that might not ordinarily come together in one space. There were his National Public Radio fans; (Sedaris breakthrough the comedy barrier with his piece for Ira Glass on what it was like to be an elf in Macy’s Santaland in NYC.) And then there were commuters who delight in hearing his exquisite and unique voice read his numerous best-selling books such as “Me Talk Pretty”,Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” and “When Engulfed in Flames.” And then there were the progressive, forward-thinking citizens that delight in Sedaris’ acid tongue and rapier wit.

Sedaris on stage is something to behold. All he needs is a few well-chosen essays and you could feel the laughter of the packed audience here to see North Carolina’s favorite son buoy to higher levels of delight. The author’s newest book (which he reminded the audience is now No. 5 on the New York Times best-seller’s list) is “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.” “One might call them a set of fables; but they are not,” Sedaris opened. “Fables have morals. These are a collection of animal stories where the animals act like people.”

Indeed his latest book can easily be best described as animals gone awry or at least gone human. And with his incredible attention to detail, animals take on the type of qualities we humans might be afraid to mock in ourselves. However in animals, it’s all together charming.

The collection of stories includes “Motherless Bear”, “The Parenting Storks” and “The Grieving Owl,” which Sedaris read for the howling crowd. The story is about how a great horned owl, that recently lost his spouse, spends the rest of his time trying to become a more informed creature by asking his prey to teach him something. Sadly, just as he does and lets the animal go, a family member will swoop down for the kill. “It’s easier than doing it alone; think of the hours I’m saving, the owl’s sister shrieked,” he read.

Sedaris and friends on tape
Normally one of the best things about a new Sedaris book is the audio book version, which features his deadpan delivery and inimitable voice. For the uninitiated, his comic stylings are as unique as Woody Allen or Chris Rock. This time, “Squirrel” features the vocal talents of three other contributors who breathe a new twist into the author’s words. “When I write these stories I keep reading them aloud over and over and testing the material in front of audiences,” he said. “But when you hear (Broadway legend) Elaine Stritch read the sentence and talk about the Motherless Bear in her own way, it’s pure delight.”

To keep producing quality work takes a commitment to the craft. Sedaris told the audience that he writes for at least four hours a day, every day of the week, splitting the work between morning and evening. “After any more than four hours of sitting in front of the computer and it becomes time to check out YouTube for videos of animals eating other animals,” he opined.

The stop in Charlotte was one of many; the author will visit 36 cities in 37 days and then begin a four-week book tour to promote “Squirrel.” Sally Brewster and Frazer Dobson, owners of the esteemed Park Road Books who have often been the bookseller of choice on his visits, commented on the author’s convivial air at the Belk. “You can tell he’s happier and more relaxed this time around,” said Brewster.

Part of that can be attributed to the author’s new healthier lifestyle: he’s quit smoking and works out regularly. He even had time to offer praise for a Charlotte institution. “Do you all know how lucky you are to have an amazing YMCA?” Sedaris offered praising the Dowd. “They will all be friendly, but swimming in the pool at the Hilton was amazing!”

Sedaris rounded the evening out by sharing essays such as “Stand By” about the travails of airline traveling and selections from his journal. It can be intimidating to think, ‘who can be funny even in their journal?’ But as audience members lined up to get their book inscribed and chat with the delightful author, the author asked those in line to share their favorite joke. As many comic tidbits flowed forth it became obvious, this man knows how to not only be funny but help others delight in the humor of life as well.

“Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” is now available at booksellers everywhere.

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