Adventures in Reading

Fiction: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

“‘You’re going to study literature and get a job doing what?’” he said. “‘Literaturizing?’” From When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris.

If I were to ever write a book about my life, one chapter would be dedicated to my friend Eric and the numerous things he has suggested that I swore I wouldn’t enjoy and ended up falling in love with. This ranges from local theatre to the film Sophie’s Choice and after many, many years I took his advice and picked up a David Sedaris book and as he knew I would I loved the book. I read When You Are Engulfed in Flames in one large swallow and it was an evening filled with embarrassing snorts, barks, giggles, and raucous laughter. (Not to mention my recitation of passages to my poor partner.)

David Sedaris is a humorous essayist with various books under his belt. When You Are Engulfed in Flames is his most recent collection and takes the reader through family history, education, travels, and the caricatures of the many people Sedaris meets. If there is nothing apparently infectiously funny about Sedaris’ stories, it’s because Sedaris dry wit, sarcasm, and slow self-roasting is contagious. In the final essay of the book “The Smoking Section” this passage left me laughing so hard I nearly choked:

“I was in El Paso one afternoon, changing out of my swimsuit, and a young man said, ‘Excuse me, but aren’t you…’ When I say I was changing out of my swimsuit, I mean that I had nothing on. No socks, no T-shirt. My underpants were in my hand. I guess the guy recognized me from my book jacket photo. The full-length naked one on the back cover of the braille edition.”

The collection is addictive in allowing the reader introspective into their own dysfunctional relationships. If When You Are Engulfed In Flames was a television comedy, it would always have perfect comic timing. Sedaris is a wonderful writer (though now I’ve twice compared him to a disease albeit a very funny one) and I am looking forward to picking up another of his works.

One thing that has caught my interest is that at work Sedaris is listed under fiction rather than humor. I was somewhat surprised as When You Are Engulfed in Flames very much reads as biographical humor, which tends to be back with the other humor books.

There has been a lot of discussion on Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames: Feminist Review, Tripping Toward Lucidity, The Hidden Side of the Leaf, books i done read, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin?, and Necromancy Never Pays.


I’m currently reading my first Sedaris (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim) and I love it so far. He is a great writer, and I love his kind of humour. I need to pick this one up at some point.

Comment by Nymeth

On numerous occasions, I’ve found Sedaris in the Literature section, and that is why I’m stunned that this particular book was only your first Sedaris experience.

PS. I highly recommend “Naked.”

Comment by Claire C. Cake

I’ll be getting this title soon. He’s really hilarious! I love Me Talk Pretty One Day and I can’t recommend it enough! I’ve seen him read his work on Letterman years before which made me buy his book. I pretty much bought most of his work after that :)

Comment by Lightheaded

Me Talk Pretty One Day is my favorite Sedaris thus far, but I’ve also read and LOVED Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. If you ever get the chance, listen to one of his audio books. He has a fantastically unique voice, and it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. When You Are Engulfed in Flames is waiting for me at the library tomorrow. Yay!

Comment by Andi

Claire C. Cake: I suppose Sedaris’ home in fiction is just another reminder to me of how often reality and fiction can and do overlap. I’ll definitely add Naked to the list.

Nymeth, Lightheaded, Andi: Definitely a lot of great praise from some great reviewers. I’m kicking myself for not getting into Sedaris sooner, but this may be the first holiday season in awhile where I can ask for some easy to locate books (and even audio books).

Comment by bookchronicle

I read Holidays on Ice, started out loving it, then got tired of it and gave up on Sedaris for a while. Then I stumbled on the audio version of Dress Your Family . . . and was converted to a rabid fan. I’ve now read or listened to everything except this new one. I check my library “hold” list every day — I am currently 63 out of 279 holds (up from 178 of 178 when I added it to my list). I can’t wait!

Comment by Rose City Reader

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