Sedaris sticks to his stories

The New Republic article raises question about author's truth

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2007

MELVILLE, N.Y. - Usually, when bestselling author and hipster National Public Radio storyteller David Sedaris goes on a nationwide tour, he has at least a half-dozen weirdly humorous new stories to preview for his fans. This time, he says, he's got three. But the story behind the dearth is Sedaris-strange, too, and one he'll spin for his audiences, he promises.

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Speaking Monday from Paris, where he lives, Sedaris - author of "Naked," "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and other collections of personal essays - reveals some things he's packing: 26 cartons of cigarettes previously bought duty-free on the way out of the United States and some "just adorable" Japanese sailor shirts he'll give to family and friends. These are hints to his low-output story.

"I just came back from three months in Tokyo," Sedaris says. What new obsession is this? He had visited the city last summer, he says: "I loved it. I wanted to go back, and I wanted to quit smoking, and I thought Tokyo would be a good place to do it."

Huh? Doesn't make sense yet, but Sedaris plows on, in the high-pitched voice that keeps sounding reasonable no matter what he says. "You can't walk on the street and smoke there. You have to stand by a special ashtray. Of course, inside, you can smoke your head off," he continues. But he was determined.

Since he often lighted up before answering the phone, he figured the time difference was so severe, no one he knew would call him, he says, and he would cut down.

Hardest, he says, was not puffing when he typed: "That took some getting used to." He mostly kept a diary. Nevertheless, he's got three new tales to tell - about a seemingly nice old man who gets arrested for molesting his granddaughter (in which Sedaris does not, he says, make light of molesting), about a boardinghouse and about spiders. Then, he'll "go to my room and rewrite," which is his usual method. He'll also read older stories, take audience questions and autograph books. He prefers to do so beforehand, he says, to scope out the crowd and make himself accessible.

Sedaris, 50, may also face questions raised by an article this month in The New Republic. The charge is that he sometimes, perhaps, makes up the stories he presents as true. The article has been mocked on www.Gawker.com and dismissed by his hometown paper in Raleigh, N.C., The News & Observer.

But does he go "beyond the boundaries of comic exaggeration," as Alex Heard's New Republic article asserts?

Sedaris has always freely acknowledged that he exaggerates. He came to fame talking on NPR in 1992 about his stint as a Santa's elf at Macy's (a true story, The New Republic asserts). But did he lie about his experiences working at a mental hospital or taking guitar lessons from a midget? Heard says Sedaris wildly and willfully mischaracterized what went on.

"What do you think a state mental hospital is?" Sedaris responds. "They're not going to say, 'Oh yeah, we're a real hellhole, a real pit.'... If I got the style of the buildings wrong, excuse me. I still stand by what I wrote ... . People aren't buying my books or showing up because they think every word is true. They're showing up because they want to laugh."

Given controversies about such authors as James Frey, Sedaris says, "It was just a matter of time before somebody wrote this article. It's just in the air."

Sedaris also admits he doesn't much care if any author's assertions, including Frey's, are true. "It just seems so silly to me ... when people say, 'He lied, and I want my money back.' I don't hear people saying, 'The president lied to me, and I want my vote back.' Those are huge lies. I'll take the little lies instead."



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