Good coffee and quips with David Sedaris
Trashing other books on the best-seller list . . . Teasing Dublin waitresses . . . There’s a sense of devilment about Sedaris, an arch humorist whose stories are a lesson in precision writing
David Sedaris: ‘There is maybe one Starbucks in Melbourne. And when you go to it, and you walk back to your hotel with it? The look in people’s eyes? Scum.’ Photograph: Sonia Recchia/Getty
‘Oh shoot, I have to do that.” David Sedaris takes out his ever-present notepad – the size of a police notebook – and scribbles something down. “To think I have to live this far ahead, but I’m going to Australia in January, and they just sent me a list of hotels and I have to choose.”
The problem Sedaris has with Australia – specifically Melbourne – is the coffee. He drinks brewed coffee, hates Americanos and, as an American, he feels uncomfortable saying the word. According to him, the only place to find a brewed cup of coffee in Melbourne is Starbucks. “And there is maybe one Starbucks in Melbourne. And when you go to it, and you walk back to your hotel with it? The look in people’s eyes? Scum.” So selecting a hotel will be easy. He’ll choose the one closest to the coffee chain. Here, in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, he orders a pot of brewed coffee, the Merrion Blend.
Sedaris is one of the arch humorists of his generation, rising to fame with increasingly excellent short stories and essays. This American Life host Ira Glass cottoned on to his unique abilities early on, and Sedaris gained a cult following with an NPR broadcast of SantaLand Diaries in 1992, an extract from a diary describing his awkward adventures working as an elf in Macy’s aged 33.
Humour from darkness
The most blistering humour comes from a sort of darkness. Sedaris is damn good at it. His 2000 book Me Talk Pretty One Day resulted in him being named Time magazine’s Humorist of the Year. His stories are a lesson in precision writing, with humour unfolding delicately and dexterously until it explodes. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim hit the number one spot on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list in 2004. Earlier this year, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls was published. He pays attention to the measures of literary success.
“Every Wednesday, my publicist sends me the best-seller list in the US. So I have to say, I have to admit I do care about that.”
Sedaris’s eyes glint with devilment, going from nought to knowingly indignant far more quickly than his brewed coffee arrives. “Like, there’s this book, Lean In? It’s the bane of my existence. So I’m number three, it’s been out for 11 weeks, and then there’s some book called Happy, Happy, Happy, which is written by some guy who has a TV show about duck hunting I’ve never seen. There should be a different category for books with your picture on the cover. It’s like a celebrity book. Now, Lean In – I haven’t read it so it’s not fair to say, but I think it’s just full of advice anyone could figure out. Like, work hard. Be honest. Who buys that book? You know, I think she’s cheating.”