David Sedaris: The Unquiet American

Short profile of David Sedaris from the Times Online (I have the audio book of While You’re Engulfed in Flames which I’m about to start listening to soon):

When so much clamour greets even D-list celebrities, it is curious that Sedaris, who has sold more than seven million books, been nominated for Grammys, filled Carnegie Hall, whose every volume of memoir begins with pages of lavish ecomiums comparing him to Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, lives in London almost unnoticed. Indeed, he considered calling his latest book Indefinite Leave to Remain after the British immigration status he was granted two years ago: “I liked the little contradiction in the phrase.” He passed his Home Office test on UK life: its quirky questions —“How old do you have to be to deliver milk?” — appealed to an American humorist fascinated by the oddness of the everyday.

Perhaps his low-key profile is intrinsic to his appeal: readers love him so intensely because they feel that they discovered him themselves. Sedaris rarely appears on TV (“I don’t want to be seen as just a personality with a typewriter”) although he travels the world giving huge, sold-out readings.

Mostly he writes about his upbringing in a loud, Greek-American clan in Raleigh, North Carolina, but his outsiderness — being gay, odd-looking, drifting between college courses and lame jobs into sundry addictions — renders his humour unflinching and often very dark. In his most recent volume, called When You Are Engulfed in Flames, he discusses the etiquette dilemmas arising from when a neighbour in the Normandy village where he owns a house is jailed as a paedophile, and the first time he told anyone he was gay ( to explain to a man who’d picked him up hitchhiking why he didn’t want to have sex, right there in the car, with his negligée-clad wife).