David Sedaris knows more than any author should about his readers. He knows, for instance, that more of his German fans have seen their parents naked than fans of any other nationality. He knows that women with cirrhosis tend to be embarrassed by their conditions, but boys with tiny, shriveled limbs can be easily coaxed into medical discussions. He’s also learned that some people will suspect him of being a racist just because he likes stories about monkeys. He has the angry letter to prove it.
Sedaris hasn’t come across this information easily. It’s taken years of touring, meeting his devoted followers in bookstores across the country. He’s made it his life’s goal to visit every state, and at press time, only North and South Dakota remain on his “to do” list. He prefers, however, to visit small towns and out-of-the-way places, particularly those that involve, in his words, “two airplanes and an hour-long car ride.”
It’s all part of his quest to amass a staggering collection of factoids and stories and random minutiae on every conceivable subject. One might suspect an ulterior motive. He has, after all, made a career of writing stranger-than-fiction accounts of his life. Over the course of five books, from Barrel Fever to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, he’s told stories of family-friendly hookers and midget jazz teachers and an older brother named Rooster with a penchant for the word “motherfucker.” But Sedaris insists that he’s not looking to his readers for grist for the mill. He’s just… curious.
I spoke with Sedaris by phone while he was vacationing in Normandy, France. He has a home there that he visits every year, where he can dabble in arachnology and, time permitting, the occasional essay.
THE BELIEVER: Have you ever thought about adopting a monkey as a pet?
DAVID SEDARIS: No. I’m doing work with monkeys right now, but I’ve never owned one.
BLVR: You’re doing work with monkeys? What does that mean?
DS: Well, there’s an organization that trains monkeys to work as slaves for quadriplegics. They’re called Helping Hands Monkeys, and I’m doing some fund-raising for them. They brought a monkey to my book signing in Boston. I don’t know if you’ve ever shared a podium with a monkey, but there’s really no point in reading. Nobody is paying attention to you.
BLVR: Did the monkey sign any books for you?
DS: Oh, sure. She couldn’t write her name, but she knew which end of the pen to use. It’s adorable.
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