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.