Author and radio personality David Sedaris is mixing it up on his current 24-city author tour to promote the paperback release of When You Are Engulfed in Flames (Little, Brown). Like most bestselling authors, Sedaris is making the typical big-city stops on the circuit, but he’s also making stops in cities with populations hovering between 85,000 and 120,000—places like Evansville, Ind.; Duluth, Minn.; and Fargo, N.D.
Interviewed by phone the day before he kicked off his month-long national tour in New York, Sedaris said he was looking forward to visiting the small cities just as much as the large ones, despite the lack of direct flights and other travel hassles. Recalling an event held last summer at a Barnes & Noble in Baton Rouge, La., Sedaris reported that he signed books for 9-1/2 hours there—a record, even for him, an author renowned for signing books for up to eight hours after readings.
“I thought, wow, these are good cities to go to on a book tour,” he said. “People are happy to show up, but publishers just don’t send them there.”
Sedaris’s strategy to hit small cities is paying off so far. After a stop Sunday at the B&N in Evansville that drew 500, Sedaris flew from Indiana to Minneapolis the next morning, from where a friend drove him 150 miles north to Duluth, to read at Northern Lights Books & Gifts. While author events are scheduled regularly at the 1,700-square-foot full-service independent bookstore, events featuring popular authors—like Michael Perry, who drew 200 people the week before—are always held off-site. But Sedaris had specifically requested that he visit Duluth on this tour, and that he do an in-store event there, Northern Lights owner Anita Zager reported.
Days before the event, Zager explained to PW, she and her six employees had set up a numbering system so that a limited number of patrons could sit inside the store, while overflow customers would listen to a broadcast of the reading, delivered through speakers set up in an adjacent parking lot. During the signing inside, local musicians would entertain the crowds outside.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned—which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read Sedaris’s quirky stories, where things that could only happen to him always seem to occur. It was 40 degrees, wet, and windy that evening. While 100 people jammed Northern Lights, another 50 people stood in the drizzle outside the store entrance, peering through the windows—while another 150 people sat three to a seat in two parked yellow school buses, requisitioned on short notice from the local school district. While the reading was piped in through speakers as planned, the concert was canceled—although folk singer Rachael Kilgour played acoustic guitar on the buses to entertain Sedaris’s fans while they waited to be allowed inside the store to have their books signed.
Despite the crowded conditions inside the store, Sedaris did not disappoint. He read from his work for about 40 minutes, including the New Yorker piece about a previous author tour, “Author, Author?” and excerpts from his tour diary, going back to 2004. During a brief q&a that followed his reading, he discussed his interest in unconventional uses for breast milk—such as using it in pancake batter and in coffee. “I didn’t know this would be the theme of my book tour,” he joked, as an audience member related her own humorous breast milk anecdote.
Following his reading, Sedaris signed books for the next six hours, leaving the store at 1 a.m., after the last two patrons, who’d played cribbage while they waited, had their books signed. In all, the store sold 180 paperback copies of Engulfed, another 180 of Sedaris’s backlist titles and 80 audiobooks. “We told people to be patient, because he likes to talk to each person, and they’d all get their chance,” store manager Melanie Grune said later. “People really took that to heart.”