2008; 323 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Essays; Non-Fiction; Anecdotal Humor. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
David Sedaris is gifted, gay, germaphobic writer who grew up in North Carolina in a household that could be the collective poster-children for “Dysfunctional Family”. Now (herein defined as when he wrote this book) in his early 50’s , he’s held a number of jobs, had several relationships, and lived in places ranging from the mundane (New York City), to the exotic (France and Japan).
He’s had his share of weird neighbors (haven’t we all?), crazy relatives, rundown apartments, and cheap hotel rooms that would give and germaphobe nightmares. He’s also had his boozing, pot-smoking, cigarette-smoking stages (haven’t we all?), and came out okay on the other side of each. Does he possibly have some wild, hilarious tales to tell about his life?
What’s To Like...
When You Are Engulfed In Flames is a set of 22 essays by Sedaris that draw from various parts of his life. Some of the stories are self-effacing. I don’t know that I’d write a chapter about a boil on my butt, but Sedaris does. Several focus on his relationship with his current partner, Hugh, who’s a polar opposite to David in most ways. Many deal with the slew of bizarre people he’s crossed paths with while traveling and moving about.
All the essays are witty and well-written. Some will resonate with you more than others, but all of them will entertain you. Many close with a bit of thought-provoking introspection by Sedaris after the hijinks have been recounted. Among my favorites here were :
The Understudy (the babysitter from hell); That’s Amore (his curmudgeony neighbor, Helen); Monster Mash (working in the morgue); The Man In The Hut (the neighborhood child molester); April In Paris (spiders); Crybaby (switching seats on an airplane); and The Smoking Section (trying to quit smoking).
I especially liked the stories that were set in France in Japan. David Sedaris does not pick up a foreign language easily, which leads to the inevitable linguistic misunderstandings and culture shock. The book’s title comes from an entry at 95%; I’ll leave it to you to discover what it means.
Kewlest New Word . . .
Murphy Bed (n.; phrase) : A bed with a frame and hinges on one end that can be folded up and stored vertically in a wall.
Others : Cush (v.) (which was quite the challenge to find its definition on Google)
Like any normal fifth grader, I preferred my villains to be evil and stay that way, to act like Dracula rather than Frankenstein’s monster, who ruined everything by handing that peasant girl a flower. He sort of made up for it by drowning her a few minutes later, but, still, you couldn’t look at him the same way again. (loc. 340)
It’s funny how certain objects convey a message – my washer and dryer, for example. They can’t speak, of course, but whenever I pass them they remind me that I’m doing fairly well. “No more Laundromat for you,” they hum. My stove, a downer, tells me every day that I can’t cook, and before I can defend myself my scale jumps in, shouting from the bathroom, “Well, he must be doing something. My numbers are off the charts.” (loc. 1713)
When You Are Engulfed In Flames sells for $9.99 at Amazon. Most of David Sedaris’ other Essays books go for the same price.
”It’s safe to assume that by 2025, guns will be sold in vending machines, but you won’t be able to smoke anywhere in America.” (loc. 3518)
When You Are Engulfed In Flames is the fourth full-blown book of essays by David Sedaris. The first three are Naked (1997); Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000); and Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim (2004). They all have the same template – 20+ “regular-sized” essays, then finishing up with one longer entry, which usually furnishes the book’s title. I’ve read all of these, and enjoyed each one. Only DYFiC&D was during my blogging days; it is reviewed here.
Sedaris’ latest offering of essays is called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls (2013), but I haven’t read it yet. My library doesn’t offer a Kindle version of it, but stocks a number of Hardcover copies.
David Sedaris is one of the foremost contemporary American humorists, and I am in awe of his continued ability to find entertaining incidents from his life to write about. All of his “Essays” books are good, and if you haven’t read any of them yet, I highly recommend starting with Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day. I remember being blown away by both of them.