As negotiations wend on between Hachette and Amazon, David Sedaris’s month-long U.S. tour for the paperback of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (Back Bay) is being held up, by some indie booksellers, as a comment on the value of bricks-and-mortar retail.
Sedaris is reading at stores in Nashua, N.H,; Butte, Mont., and Huntsville, Ala., along with more typical stops in Boston and the nation's capital. Ever since the publication of Me Talk Pretty One Day in 2000, Sedaris has made a point of speaking in bricks-and-mortar bookstores for free. The author also doesn’t leave the shops until the last book is signed, which can mean staying until 1 a.m., or later. Now, as he begins to promote his newest title--while his publisher remains in the grips of a drawn-out showdown with the country's most powerful retailer--his tour is taking on a new significance for many of the booksellers hosting him.
“My lecture tours draw an older crowd—people who can afford a $40 or $50 ticket," Sedaris said. "The book tour is my opportunity to meet poor and young people and ask them questions about youth and poverty. When you’re in your teens and twenties, it’s hard to scrape the money together for a book, even a paperback. It’s nice, then, to have the option of just hanging out and hearing someone read.”
Fans at year-old Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich., lined up at 2 a.m. to get tickets for the Sedaris reading. Another 300 people waited in the rain to get their books signed. “The reading was lovely,” said Literati co-owner Mike Gustafson. “We are grateful that David not only came to our store, but that he was so engaged and kind and fun with all our customers. When you open a bookstore, you always hope that one day you can become a vibrant store hosting huge names in the literary world. To have it actually happen was truly a special evening.”
Alicia Michielli, assistant manager of Talking Leaves...Books in Buffalo, said that this was the first time Sedaris had read at the bookstore. He usually performs at the Center for the Arts at the University at Buffalo, which has 1,744 seats. “It was amazing,” said Michielli. “He hung out with the people waiting in line [outside], and he talked with the people sitting [in the bookstore]. All the customers were thrilled.”
She was impressed that Sedaris had a story or joke for everyone in line and gave away gifts, mostly toiletries from hotels. He handed one ten-year-old a box of chocolates and gave a pocket square from a store in Paris to a teenage boy who said that he likes to wear suits. On a previous tour, Sedaris stopped at Costco and got an industrial-size pack of condoms at Costco to hand out. According to his publicist, Catherine Cullen, Sedaris likes to say: “People are always trying to bring me stuff. How often do they get to take something home from me?”
For Jeff Mayersohn, owner of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., who has hosted Sedaris before, it was worth it to close the bookstore from about 3 o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon until 7:30. “We sold a lot of books. The customers really enjoyed it. I think it’s a no brainer,” said Mayersohn. Both audience and staff at Harvard appreciated the fact that Sedaris tried out new material at the event.
“When working on a story, I’ll read it out loud, return to my hotel, and rewrite it. Read, rewrite, on and on,” says Sedaris. “I have any number of symbols: checks when people laugh, x’s whey they don’t, tiny skulls when they start coughing. The symbols help when it comes time to rewrite.”
It's hard to say whether Amazon-Hachette dispute meant for a warmer greeting for Sedaris. Michielli at Talking Leaves felt personally that his appearance was a strong affirmation of the importance of independents. Despite the slowdown on some Hachette titles, the paperback of Let’s Explores Diabetes with Owls (June 3) can be ordered for overnight delivery and in some places same-day. As for the book's strength at bricks-and-mortar retailers, last week it sold 8,100 copies, with total sales of 14,387, according to Nielsen BookScan. Hachette reports that it has sold 750,000 copies in all formats to date.