Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sedaris X 2

It must have been four years ago, the fall of 2008, when I drove to Ball State University one evening, Emens Auditorium, to hear David Sedaris read.  Sedaris was riding the tailwind of a wildly popular book tour at the time, had a flush audience on NPR, and had just returned from Paris.  I paid my money, and for nearly two hours listened inside a shroud of raucous laughter as he stood behind a spotlit-podium and read.

I don't recall which of his published works he read that evening, but it was one of his "works-in-progress" that caught my attention.  I found this particular piece rife with sardonic wit, and after his reading, someone in the audience asked him if it was slated for publication any time soon.  He said he hoped The New Yorker would take it. 

Interestingly enough, this first-person piece, about a visit to a taxidermy shop in which the proprietor shows him a human skeleton, a human leatherized head, and the severed-and-stuffed arm of a sailor kept under glass like a pheasant . . . stood out in my mind.  Driving home, the imagery of that writing stayed with me, and it was certainly one of the weirdest memoirs Sedaris read that evening.

Imagine my surprise when, last night, I happened to pick up an older copy of The New Yorker (Oct 22) which I had not yet read. The copy had flopped open atop a giant stack of magazines on our living room table.  I picked it up.  And there it was . . . the Sedaris memoir about the taxidermy shop.

Well, I had heard it live four years ago when Sedaris was still working it up, making pencil notations at the podium at Ball State as he read it, checking the margins with notations whenever there was uproarious laughter or stifled pauses. 

And it also goes to show that the publishing business, even for superstars like Sedaris, is a L O N G and T E D I O U S process.  Four years?  It's difficult for me to imagine that the magazine has been holding on to the piece that long.  And it's even more unimaginable to me that Sedaris would have kept rewriting it for the past three years, polishing it to a fine gloss. 

But one of these is true.  And the magazine no doubt paid Sedaris and arm and a leg to write it. 

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