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David Sedaris talks Brexit, Duluth and blackened toenails

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David Sedaris will read from his latest essay collection in Duluth.
Essayist and broadcaster David Sedaris will read from his latest essay collection "Calypso" at the Zenith Bookstore in Duluth on Thursday.
Ingrid Christie | Courtesy Little, Brown and Company

Writer David Sedaris will read from his latest collection of work in Duluth Thursday night. The essays in the book "Calypso" are funny at times and deeply sad at others as Sedaris wrestles with life.

Sedaris has vivid memories of his last visit to the Twin Ports.

Cover of "Calypso" by essayist David Sedaris.
Cover of "Calypso" by David Sedaris.
Courtesy Little, Brown and Company

"I was in Duluth about 10 years ago on a paperback tour," he recalled.

It was summer. He was struck by the natural beauty of the woods just outside the city. He also noticed the lake effect locals call "nature's air conditioning" was full on. Everyone was wearing a coat.

"The bookstore was just tiny and so what they did was they brought in school buses," he said. "And they had people sitting in heated school buses, and they had speakers in the school buses so they could listen to the reading. I thought it was fantastic — just to be that cold in June."

Thursday's reading is at the Zenith Bookstore at 7 p.m., where they have access to a little more inside space.

Sedaris is speaking shortly after landing in the United States. He's lived in Britain for the last eight years. While he pokes fun at candidate Donald Trump in his book, he says not to read anything into the fact he left the U.K. just as President Trump arrived for a state visit.

"It just worked out that way" he said. "But it's a good time to be gone."

He says ordinarily as an American, he would have expected to take some grief about the president from his neighbors. However, he says he's been saved by Brexit. He says ever since the announcement of the Brexit referendum result, it's overwhelmed everything else.

"It's there and it's talked about every single day. And it's the headline in every newspaper and it's all the BBC talks about," he said. "But it doesn't ever move. And nobody knows. It's not a good time to sell your house and nobody knows what's happening."

He thought about getting a British passport, which would have allowed him to live and work in any European Union country. Now he says there's no point.

"So, I have been looking into getting a Greek passport," he said. "And I guarantee that the moment I do, Greece will be kicked out of the EU."

For now Sedaris is getting back into tour mode, meeting people and reading from the paperback edition of "Calypso." He's also excited to be trying out some new material. He tries to read the crowd at each event to see what might go over well. His writing easily slides between observations of the world around him and the thoughts sparked by what he sees.

One piece begins at a meal in Melbourne in Australia, where he notices a sleek rubber band on the wrist of the woman sitting next to him. He reads what happened when he asked if it was a watch, and she said "no, it's a Fitbit."

"I leaned closer and as she tapped the thickest part of it, a number of glowing dots rose to the surface and danced back and forth. 'It's like a pedometer,' she continued, 'but updated and better. The goal is to take 10,000 steps per a day, and once you do it vibrates.'

I forked some salami into my mouth. 'Hard?'

'No,' she said, 'it's just a tingle.'"

A week later, he got his own Fitbit, and now scoffs at the 10,000 steps daily goal.

"A week ago, I walked 24 miles in a day," he said. "When I am back home in Sussex, I walk between 18 and 22 miles a day. My record in a day is 91,000 steps. And I walk too much my toenails turn black and fall off."

He says he needs to walk to counter all the sitting and eating he does during tours. Also he picks up trash as he walks and takes pride in the litter-free ring extending for miles round his home.

There is also a lot in "Calypso" about life with his partner Hugh, and how they share a beach house with Sedaris' father and siblings. Some of those essays also deal with his sister Tiffany's suicide. He says he heard from a lot of readers with similar experiences, including one woman who told of her own sisters death.

"And she wrote the tragedy wasn't my sister's suicide, but my sisters mental illness," he said. "And I think that's the way that I feel. That was the tragedy."

That Sedaris connects with readers and listeners is undeniable. He puts it down to good fortune.

"I think I am just kind of lucky that the things that interest me or the things I'm curious about, a lot of people are curious about," he said.

And then he tries to be true to himself.