Sunday, 23 August 2009

BOOK FESTIVAL REVIEW: David Sedaris * * * *


David Sedaris * * * *
International Book Festival
22 Aug 15.30

Sedaris is so unsuspecting. Dressed in khaki trousers (not corduroy or denim) and a smart shirt, Sedaris, a man short in stature, appears to be normal, or rather, boring. Not at all the type of gentleman that would, moments later, smilingly divulge the horrors of defecated American dressing rooms, or light-heatedly tell a story about the highly-homosexual purchase of a four pound box of condoms and strawberries from Costco. The condoms, of course, are gifts to the teenagers who attend his readings. So, yes: not so boring.

Sedaris sails straight into an email reading, an email from Rhonda. Rhonda's email is typical of Sedaris' style, sarcasm and humour: a tasty avocado that pleasantly peels away to its delicious end, or in this case, a hilariously evil punchline. Rhonda seems totally in-the-right for firing off an email in response to receiving pizza vouchers for a wedding gift, an email that's more of a 'f**k you' note than a 'why, thank you' note. Oh, the sweet revenge that carefully composed sentences can bear. A hoot.

He chooses this story, you see, because Sedaris is pleased with himself for finally getting an email address, and the Internet, a year ago; now a new world of humour opens itself up to him as he's particularly dumbfounded that people can, and do, comment on everything, down to the veins in Madonna's arms.

The next and final reading is Laugh, Kookaburra, published last week in the New Yorker. This story is not as evil but funny still, although he confesses to me afterwards that he wishes he'd chosen a few smaller pieces instead. Laugh, Kookaburra is indeed a longish memoir, however a funny and well-crafted recall of a trip to Australia and an introduction to a fascinating kookaburra, entwined with a childhood memory that involves that bizarre family of his who are so endearing now to any fan of his many other memoirs. I assure him, and you, it's a treat.

In the question and answer session to follow, Sedaris' natural wit is unleashed while discussing the rigorous fact-checking involved in personal essays (is there really asparagus on that menu in Daylesford, Australia?) and his preferred editing process which is to edit himself during live readings before submitting a piece to a publisher. He does not recommend the restaurant at Edinburgh's Harvey Nichols (which one is unknown) as he apparently left the place "famished," but then leaves us with his sentiments on Scotland. "Just when you think it can't get any more beautiful, you turn your head slightly,and it does."

We can only hope this means he'll be back to remind us that Sedaris is about as boring as a kookaburra.

Also in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine on edfestmag.com.

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