Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris — 336 pgs

Whether he's lamenting his difficulties with his sweaty prosthetic derriere or having strangely disturbing conversations with a couple who picks him up hitchhiking, David Sedaris is in top form in his new book of essays, When You are Engulfed in Flames. In the quiet and conversational style that is truly all his own, Sedaris grapples with his attempts to quit smoking, which involves moving to Tokyo for three months, and struggles with both the extremely rude and desperately grieving passengers on the airplanes he frequents. He shops for women's clothing with his sister Amy after finding it too hard to find flattering men's clothing in his size. He shares his first forays into writing and tells his audience how he got to be the David Sedaris of today, and he relates a terrifying story about a group of birds that aim to terrify him out of his French apartment. At times goofy, yet surprisingly lucid, these stories brilliantly share the mind and thoughts of one of America's most beloved comic writers of our day.

David Sedaris is possibly one of my most favorite authors. I've read all but one of his books, and find that the more I read about him and his life, the more enamored of him I become. In the early 2000's I had the opportunity to see him preform live in Miami, and I have to say that's one of my fondest memories. I would love the chance to see him again, and if he's ever in my area, I'm all over it! My husband and I listened to this book on audio, and it was his first time being exposed to David. I think he may have had a better time with it than I did, which is saying a lot! He's mentioned that we should definitely listen to more of Sedaris' work, which is not a problem, because I have quite a few of his books on audio just waiting for us!

This collection was similar to Sedaris' other books not only in the way the stories were delivered (deadpan) but also that it focused both on everything and nothing much at the same time. One of the things I enjoy most about Sedaris is that he can take the most mundane subjects and make them seem alive with wit and sparkle, a fact that Frank also mentioned. He has this acerbic way of delivering even the most shocking and funny things that makes me appreciate his talent all the more. When he calls his regular group of smoking companions a "foul little congress," it's not only the sentiment he makes but the delivery as well. It's the dry and unassuming way he makes pronouncements of all kinds, from the bizarre to the easily observable.

Most of this book is given over to short stories, but in the latter half he speaks mainly of his move to Tokyo, mainly to quit smoking. This section had a lot of resonance for me as I'm going through this particularly grueling ordeal myself. To hear Sedaris speak about it was both a balm and an amusement that kept me on the right track. During these segments, he also speaks of his difficulties in language school and the fact that even though he's a very studious person by nature, he's at the bottom of his class and is somewhat embarrassed by this. I found these sections not only funny, but touching, because I think a lot of people can relate to wanting to succeed and having to accept that some things are beyond your ken. As usual, Sedaris gets himself into situations that are not only unlikely, but strange, and in his attempt to explain himself, he delivers some incredible monologues.

There's really not much more to say about this little book, other than the fact that it is hilarious, and that once again, Sedaris performs like a star throughout this audio version. I sometimes think Sedaris' work is best appreciated in its audio form because it's solely read by its author, and there's no mistaking where the funny lies when David Sedaris is reading to you. Fans of Sedaris will find a lot to love in this book, and those new to him will also be pleased with this one. Highly recommended!

21 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

your love for the author's works flowed off the screen. Wish I could point to an author and say 'I've read his entire works but one'. I also love to hear people talk about themselves. it shows that we aren't alone in our problems.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Every time Sandy posts a review of one of his books, I keep saying I have to get one, and haven't yet. This year I must make that a goal!

Andi said...

I loooooved this one! I tend to see less buzz about this book than his other collections, but I really did adore this one. He dealt with some darker topics but they were still ridiculousness funny.

Cozy in Texas said...

He definitely has a unique style.
Ann

Jenners said...

I've read all his books and love them but I've never heard him in audio -- can you believe it? I've been hearing time and time again that audio is the way to go with him so maybe a relisten of one of his books is in order.

Harvee said...

I have this book in the house; it belongs to my son. I'll have to take a look at it. The stories sound very interesting.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I need to get on this! I've never read any David Sedaris before!

bermudaonion said...

I listened to this book and just loved it. Sedaris's work is the best when he's reading it!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Sedaris is one of those authors that MUST be experienced on audio. OMG he makes me laugh. I can't remember if this is the one that talked about his accidentally spitting his cough drop on the lap of the lady next to him on the plane? I also love Me Talk Pretty One Day. These two would be my favorites.

Harvee said...

Z: I also wanted to let you and your readers know about the give away on my blog for the Audio CD of CINDER, courtesy of the publisher.

softdrink said...

I've heard from others that he is amazing to hear speak in person. He's done a few performances in Santa Barbara, which is just a few hours away. Fingers crossed he comes back!

Trisha said...

I think I'll add Sedaris to my audio list; I'm thinking if I try out some really, really good audiobooks, I may be able to overcome my dislike of them.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I love that you and your husband listened to this together, AND that you both enjoyed it so much!

I'm going to take your advice, Heather, and listen to this on audio. The only Sedaris I've read is HOLIDAYS ON ICE, which I thought was hysterical. In fact, in that review I mentioned that if I listened to the audio I'd probably just sit an listen (not my usual multi-tasking).

Thanks to you and your husband for your enthusiastic review of this one!

Jenny said...

I tried to read one of his books before and couldn't get into it (me talk pretty one day) but it's very possible I just wasn't in the right mood. I typically love the type of humor you describe as well as humor about really mundane subjects. I may have to give him another try!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

Great review as usual. I'm going to pick up a copy of this book as soon as it becomes available in local bookstores. The one thing that has always stuck with me about David Sedaris is his memory. He remembers so many things from his childhood, so many little details that you can't help but be amazed with his memory.

And, yes, I like his deadpan delivery. It kinds of tells you that he's not being deliberately funny. That's just the way he is.

Suko said...

Excellent review of this book! I've never read or listened to his work, but your enthusiasm and that of other fans is contagious.

Darlene said...

I've never read anything by Sedaris. I guess I've never been sure his books are my thing. I may have to give him a try some day.

Amy said...

I haven't read any of Sedaris' books yet and it's not that I don't want to, I just seem to forget to pick one up when I'm buying books or ordering them. After reading your wonderful post, I'm going to make sure I get one soon. I am especially curious about why he moved to Tokya to give up smoking (and good luck to you with this, I know it isn't at all easy).
What a wonderful idea to listen to Sedaris' book on audio with Frank...and you created a fan! I listen to some of Ray Romano and some other comics with Scott and, although David Sedaris is a little different than a stand-up comic, I like the idea of listening to his essays on audio.
Do you recommend any of his earlier books in particular? Does it matter which book I start reading/listening to?

Amy said...

Good luck quitting yourself, too bad we can't all go to Tokyo to do so right? I read and enjoyed this one as well though I wasn't as big of a fan of the other Sedaris that I read.

Beth F said...

I have one of his books here in audio. I really need to give him a try. Everyone loves him.

TheBookGirl said...

I have yet to read David Sedaris, but this review has convinced me to get on it right after the New Year.
I will take your suggestion and try to get an audioversion from the library.

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