Noted for his commentaries on NPR and his humorous memoirs, David Sedaris has a new book full of stories about animals.
When signing a contract for a performance, rock stars might demand a bottle of top-shelf liquor or the elimination of brown M&M’s from the premises.
David Sedaris, best known for his humorous memoirs, just wanted was a typewriter. Specifically, he wanted an IBM Wheel Writer 1, 2 or 3.
“And then I would show up and it would be some ancient Canon typewriter,” Sedaris said in a recent telephone interview. “And then you would type three words and the ribbon would snap. And then you’re at some hotel out on the highway and there’s nowhere to get a new ribbon.”
Like a lot of the writer’s experiences, there’s a broader life lesson to be drawn: “You’re just going to be disappointed when you rely on other people. Time and time again.”
In seven books and numerous essays for The New Yorker, Sedaris has recounted his job as a Macy’s Christmas elf, his North Carolina childhood, his time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the death of his mother and his move to France with longtime boyfriend, Hugh.
He’s something of a rock star among fans of public radio, which is where he got his career-making break reading about his Macy’s experience in “SantaLand Diaries.” (The segment was produced by Ira Glass, who would go on to create “This American Life,” a program on which Sedaris has been a staple.)
There aren’t many writers who could mount two nationwide tours every year that draw hundreds — often thousands — of fans to each event.
But Sedaris has a dedicated following who love him for his dry wit, his nasally voice, his unrepentant smoking (though he quit a few years ago) and his techno-phobic disposition.
10 percent of capacity
That attitude explains his demand of an IBM Wheel Writer 1, 2 or 3. Of course, that was a long time ago, and the days of trying to go through airport security with a typewriter — of course, recounted in one of his stories — are long behind him.
Sedaris has used a laptop computer for about 10 years. It’s probably for the best. Back when he was using a typewriter, if he needed White Out for a line on, for example, the seventh draft of a story, what he rewrote couldn’t be any longer than the blank space.
“I didn’t want to have to retype the whole page,” Sedaris said, “because I just type with one finger.”
Wait, seven books and he’s still typing with one finger?
“Yeah, I’m just completely uncoordinated,” he said.
One finger on each hand or just one finger out of 10?
“One finger, period.”
That must take forever.
“I’m fast with my one finger.”
Which finger is it?
“My index finger on my right hand,” Sedaris said. “I can use the other finger to hold down the capital bar if I want to write something in capital letters. It doesn’t just hang there at my side.”
About 10 years ago, Hugh bought Sedaris a laptop. He still doesn’t have a cell phone. But other than that, Sedaris is a walking Apple Store.
“I’m currently traveling with an Apple MacBook Air, an iPod Touch, a smaller iPod that I play on stage and two iPads,” Sedaris said.
The image of David Sedaris, Luddite, no longer applies.
“I’m actually learning how to do things for myself. I mean, I used to scream like a girl and call Hugh whenever anything went wrong. But I’m actually learning to do things on my own,” Sedaris said.
‘A Modest Bestiary’
Sedaris’ latest book, published last month, is “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.” A bestiary, he explained, “is just a book where animals do things that people do.”
He did not want to call it a book of animal “fables,” because fables have morals. Some of his stories do have morals, and others go to rather dark places, like one about a bear kidnapped into a life of misery in a low-rent circus. But Sedaris said he did not want to impose morality throughout the book.
Mostly he just wanted to start writing fiction again, and said that this seemed like an “inviting” way to do so.
“If I were to write that Philip and Amanda had been dating for two weeks when they ran out of things to talk about, I would need to tell you what they looked like and how old they were and what clothes they were wearing,” Sedaris said. “But if I said the squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks, everybody knows what a squirrel and a chipmunk look like, and I can just cut to the chase.”
The first animal story Sedaris wrote, about six or seven years ago, was “The Cat and the Baboon,” a parable about stereotyping and trying to ingratiate oneself with a stranger by bashing another racial or ethnic group (or in this case, species). It’s the first of 15 stories in the book, culled from 25.
Getting them in just the right order was a challenge. Obviously, you can’t have two bird stories next to each other, and you don’t want relationship stories back-to-back, either.
“So I put them in this order and then I would realize that’s three stories with the word ‘chuckle’ in it,” Sedaris said. “Who knew that I used the word chuckle?”
Sedaris will speak at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sangamon Auditorium, on the campus of the University of Illinois Springfield.When: 7:30 p.m. Friday Where: Sangamon Auditorium, University of Illinois Springfield Tickets: $47/$42, available at the Sangamon Auditorium ticket office, or by calling 206-6160