I naively thought that arriving at Book Passage 45 minutes early would land me a seat for the reading on Tuesday night, but that didn’t even guarantee a spot in the parking lot. I know David Sedaris is a Bay Area favorite, so I probably should have realized that all the seats in a small, independent book store would be gone by 5:30 for a 7:00 reading.
So my new regular companion for attending readings (who also happens to be my daughter) and I got in line for food so that we could eat our dinner while watching Sedaris on the monitor set up in the bookshop’s café. We got the last table there. Despite their being out of tomatoes and iced tea, we managed to stave off our hunger and get a seat for the show, albeit not in the same room.
Sedaris started by reading the story that made Kylie fall in love with his writing in the first place, a touching and humorous piece highlighting an event from his childhood when he and his sister Amy sang “Kookaburra” in bed, to the great dismay of their father.
As he traditionally does, he read excerpts from his diary, omitting any that contained obscenities, explaining that it didn’t feel right to use such language in daylight. (Of course, had it been winter, it would have been dark at 7:15 pm when he was reading. But nobody was going to argue that just because it was almost summer in the Bay Area, it wasn’t fair of him to censor his own diary.)
He also recommended a book to us, even suggesting that we buy it rather than his own book because it was better written. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember the title or the author’s name, but I do recall him saying the book store had three copies if anyone wanted to purchase it. He also recommended podcasts (Mark Maron‘s WTF) and one by Julie something—I know, I should have taken better notes).
Then he had a long question and answer period. Because you never know who has the most interesting questions or who are the people who are just raising their hands because they like to hear their own voices, this part of the program can be a mixed bag. I can’t help but wish the questions were vetted ahead of time, but you get what you get. I mean, I could have answered the woman who wanted to know how many brothers and sisters he had. ( 4 sisters and 1 brother, if you care) But I enjoyed his in-depth answer to the question concerning the best interviewers.
Sedaris let us in on some of the behind-the-scenes artifice that goes on in the world of television talk shows. Apparently, at the bigger shows like Letterman’s, someone on staff conducts a 45-minute long pre-interview with guests while they’re getting their make-up done. Then someone decides which parts will work best and turns it into a script that the guest is supposed to memorize for the five minutes of air time. Not being an actor, Sedaris feels pressured and somewhat ill-equipped to perform this way. But with Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, things are different: Jon drops by the dressing room and chats cordially with guests for about 15 minutes, just to establish a comfort level, and then on stage allows the interview to take its natural course, whether that includes specifically talking about the book being promoted or whatever. When Sedaris asked if he could tell a joke, Stewart said yes but not to tell him ahead of time because he wanted to be able to laugh at it spontaneously and not have to “fake-laugh.”
Because we were not in the seated area of the reading, we were near the back of the line when it came to signing books. Luckily, we befriended the two people in front of us, who were friendly colleagues, which made the wait seem a little shorter. We’d queued up around 8:15 and had only moved a matter of inches by 9:00. It was around that time that Jeff, the man in front of us, borrowed one of the now-empty folding chairs to sit in while in line. His colleague joined him. Kylie followed suit, and before long, chairs snaked back into the store by twos, resembling a curved bus. Despite the strict warning that no photos be taken, I didn’t think anyone would mind if I took a picture of the signing line itself.
For over two hours, Sedaris chatted with fans individually and asked them questions. At some point he also ate dinner. He had a mysterious box of trinkets that he occasionally opened to produce small gifts or to retrieve something to show. The twelve-year-old girl who related to Me Talk Pretty One Day because she too had gone to speech therapy got her choice of bracelets. Jeff explained that in his heart of hearts he was wearing a Count Chocula T-shirt (in reference to a remark Sedaris made during The Daily Show interview), at which point Sedaris pulled out a Count Chocula T-shirt to show (not to give away).
When we finally arrived at the signing table, I asked him about the Julie he’d mentioned earlier because he’d said he couldn’t explain her humor to the whole crowd but he’d be happy to talk about her one on one. Looking up at Kylie, who was standing next to me, he asked her how old she was before he answered my question. It took Kylie several seconds to remember that she was 20, but apparently that was old enough for Sedaris to say the word he thought might be objectionable to younger folk. I told him how much I loved his Billy Holiday imitations, after which Kylie asked if he might not sing a bit for us. He said he hadn’t sung in years and would only do so if someone had passed around a hat to collect money for such a performance. I asked how much it would take to get him to sing, and he thought for a moment, then answered “two hundred dollars.” Then he drew a picture of an owl and signed my book. He asked Kylie if she had any Chinese friends (we never did find out where that question was leading to) to which Kylie replied almost guiltily that although she had Korean and Japanese friends, she did not currently have any Chinese friends. Then he asked her how much she spent for the most expensive piece of clothing she owned. She looked down at her outfit composed mostly of thrift store items or pieces borrowed from me until she remembered the one pair of shoes that she’d bought some months ago that were on sale for $150. With that, Sedaris flipped through a sticker book he had, found a pair of red mary janes, and stuck it on the title page of Kylie’s copy of his book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.
The whole experience was somewhat random but satisfying.