The first book I ever ready by David Sedaris was “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” I’d never heard of Sedaris before (terrible, I know), and I chose the book because I literally judged it by its cover, a cool title scribbled on a chalkboard with a childlike handwriting. By the time I got to the second essay, I was laughing out loud with Sedaris’s unique mix of wit, sarcasm, insight and emotion. And throughout the book, I remember thinking “I wish I could write like that someday!”
I’ve been a Sedaris fan ever since, so I was extremely excited when I saw that he’d be speaking in Chicago on the weekend I was going to be there. On Nov. 2, Sedaris spoke at the beautiful Auditorium Theater in Roosevelt University, right across the street from Grant Park. The author started the night with a piece he wrote for his BBC Radio show about wanting to create an English for Business Travelers course, where he would explain to foreigners all about the quirks of airport clerks, hotel concierges and flight attendants. Most importantly, he’d remind them how in the US, everything that’s good, all right or even barely OK, is “just awesome.”
Waiting for David.
He followed with “Guest Room Gambits,” his New Yorker piece about house guests (noting that one of the few joys of being middle aged is being able to have not one but two guest rooms), and then “The Happy Place,” from his most recent book, “Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls,” where he shared his father’s obsessive desire for him to have a colonoscopy. Finally, Sedaris read excerpts from his diaries, sharing weird experiences and very dirty jokes he’s accumulated during his times on the road.
I expected Sedaris to be as brilliantly clever and funny in person as he is on paper, and he proved me right. Though I’d already read two of the pieces he featured last night, it was amazing to hear them from his own voice. I also loved learning that sometimes, after a live reading, he heads to his hotel room and rewrites parts of his pieces that he feels could be improved (don’t we all wish we could do that?). But my favorite part was seeing how warm he is and how lovingly he speaks of his family, which was particularly bittersweet, considering he just published an essay about his sister’s suicide in the New Yorker.
At the end of the night, I intended to have one of my books signed by him, but the line was insane and it was pretty late. But the memory of having heard David Sedaris live was good enough for me. In fact, it was “just awesome.”
Text and photos by Cristina Alonso.