LIHUE — For a first-time visit, everything’s up in the air.
No set list. No order in which stories have to go.
Because, for a reading that’s billed to celebrate the paperback release of “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” the book’s author, David Sedaris, is tired of its content. Those essays The New York Times bestselling author penned — he’s worn out.
“I got sick of that book, gee, a long time ago,” said Sedaris, a humorist, writer and radio contributor with nine collections of essays to his credit. “I probably won’t open it.”
Sedaris recently wrapped up a 49-city book tour on the Mainland, reading one of the stories from the essay collection 45 times. That doesn’t include the time spent writing, rewriting and editing the piece just to get it to the point of touring, either.
“So yeah,” Sedaris said in a phone interview with The Garden Island. “I’m pretty sick of it.”
Everything else is up for grabs, though, and Sedaris, who will be hosting a lecture on Feb. 18 at Kauai Community College, mixes it up with the audience, telling them stories, reading from his diary as well as the essays that made him a best-selling author featured in “The New Yorker” and “This American Life.”
Nevertheless, it still boggles his mind that people come to listen to him read.
“I’m not being modest. I completely don’t understand it,” he said of the turnouts for his tours because, as he put it, it just never dawned on him that people would want to hear his stories read aloud the way Sedaris enjoys listening to his favorite authors being read on the radio. “I’ve gotten used to it. I’m just always perplexed by it.”
Sedaris’s pieces are often autobiographical and self-deprecating. They center on his Raleigh, North Carolina, childhood, as well as his life abroad in England and France. They detail his obsessive behaviors with a cutting wit. Drug use, sexuality, smoking cigarettes as a way to alleviate OCD-like ticks, his works are deeply personal.
Among his many awards are Grammy nominations for albums of his readings.
“It’s the melody of it,” Sedaris said of what makes a piece sound just as good out loud as it does in the reader’s head. “To me, I feel like I used to write things so I that could read them out loud, but I think now I write them so anyone can read them out loud. To me, the melody is right there on the page.”
Sedaris now lives in England but admits he hasn’t mastered the art of English small talk. They look at him, he said, like he’s crazy when he starts chatting up a stranger. For example, he once asked a cashier if they punch in a person’s debit card PIN number for the card owner, if the card owner is blind.
“I still thought it was a good question,” he said.
It might be because the eccentric writer, who picks up litter so obsessively they named a garbage truck after him and invited him to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace last May, is, well, eccentric. After one especially long rubbish collecting day, he had an inch-and-a-half-long thorn sticking out his forehead while he ran errands, so maybe that’s just what everyone else sees.
“You know how it is,” he said, almost sheepishly. “When people think you’re stupid, you become stupid; and when people think you’re crazy, you start to doubt yourself.”
Sedaris collects trash to clear his head. Mornings, he heads straight to the desk and writes for four or five hours, and then canvasses the neighborhoods, rural roads, any roads, “cleaning rubbish,” as the English call it. He recently filled 60 bags in an hour and a half. Then, after cleaning, he puts in another hour or so of writing.
He first knew he wanted to be a writer when he was 23. He was reading “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason, waiting for a flat tire to be fixed on his bicycle in North Carolina.
“It’s scary, if you announce an ambition,” he said. “Then there’s something at stake.”
Each morning, he chips away. One thing he learned early was if you sit down expecting to write a piece fit for The New Yorker, “it’s a guarantee you’re never going to get beyond your third sentence.”
“I try to write every day without expectation,” Sedaris said. “I write every day but I don’t expect success every day.”
While he hasn’t figured out why people come in droves to hear him, he spends hours signing books and talking with guests after readings. English small talk he might not have down, but everywhere else he enjoys talking story. And as a meticulous diary keeper, Sedaris said he jots the good ones down every once in a while.
“Sometimes, I don’t know, a little conversation springs up,” he said.
Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show range from $60 to $70.
Info: (800) 745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com