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Something's Funny About This Book Tour

David Sedaris charmed fans at CSUN's VPAC.
David Sedaris charmed fans at CSUN's VPAC.
How funny is humorist David Sedaris? Funny enough to transform the routine promotion of a new book into a 40-city tour of performances, selling out venues such as CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center, which he did on Saturday night.

A native of Binghamton, N.Y. who grew up in suburban Raleigh, N.C., Sedaris draws on his recollections of childhood as well as shrewd contemporary observations. His first seven books have sold 7 million copies and his eighth, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, debuted at the top of The New York Times Bestseller list when it was released in April.

For two hours, Sedaris, 56, enthralled a local legion of fans with material from his essays, short stories and diary entries.

His stories are largely autobiographical, freighted with emotion, dialect and ironic detail. Reading them is one thing; hearing him present them is another. In person, With his knack for dramatic intonation and comic timing, Sedaris adds a fresh layer of enjoyment to his witty--and occasionally bawdy--writing style.

Sedaris has a gift for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Now on the last leg of his tour, he has created new ways to describe the mechanical hospitality that pervades the travel industry. For instance, there's the front desk employee who "smiled like someone who had learned to do so in a book."

For Sedaris, humor is as much about the human condition as the punchline. Not surprisingly, then, the highlight of his VPAC performance was his reading of Now We Are Five, a story that appeared earlier this year in The New Yorker.

The piece is a reflection on events following the suicide of his sister, Tiffany, earlier this year. In particular, he told of a family reunion with his surviving brother and three sisters at a rented beach cottage in a location similar to where the siblings vacationed when they were children.

Sedaris blends memories of Tiffany with everyday conversations among family members, including a discussion about what to name the rented cottage. His suggestion: Sea Section.

From Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls, Sedaris read Think Differenter, conceived as a dramatic monologue for boys. In it, he satirically suggests "If you don't think a mental patient doesn't have the right to bring a sawed-off shotgun to the church where his ex is getting married, then you're part of the problem."

That was followed by a cross-section of recent entries from the diary he has kept since 1977. These included the story of a woman who wanted to celebrate her 100th birthday by visiting The Olive Garden. Added Sedaris: "I think I'll go to The Olive Garden when I'm 102...but not one moment before."

Sedaris recommended a new book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. The book paints an excruciating picture of the dreadful living conditions in that country. "The great thing about the book is North Korea is so far away that there's nothing you can do to help," he said.

In response to audience questions, Sedaris shared his opinions of places he has visited. A favorite hotel is the Langham in Pasadena ("It's full of happy people"). At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Radisson, he said. "I call the Radisson the Saddison because it's always so depressing."

A book-signing followed the performance.  Judging by the length of the line that snaked through the VPAC lobby, CSUN is sure to be added to Sedaris' list of favorite places.

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