Sunday, June 15, 2008

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

I got this as an early birthday present. It was good that I received it early, because I would have purchased it on my own before my birthday (July 15, and if you are wondering, no, I still don't have an iPod Touch). I was super excited about this book and had to force myself to read it slowly, so as to not finished it in the first day. I think that I did a fairly good job, managing to spread it out over six days.

As with most of Sedaris's books, Flames covers a wide variety of topics, with essays that deal with various periods in Sedaris's life. It would be stupid for me to try and pick a favorite, but I really enjoyed "In the Waiting Room," in which Sedaris explains why it can be a problem to know so little French that you are reduced to saying yes in response to everything. The phrase Sedaris uses actually translates to, "I am in agreement." Due to his excessive use of this phrase, he finds himself in his underwear in a waiting room that slowly begins to fill with other people, all fully dressed of course.

Each essay is somewhere around fifteen pages in length with a few exceptions, chief among these is the final essay, "The Smoking Section," which was a little over eighty pages. Comprised of journal entries, this essay follows Sedaris all the way to Tokyo on his quest to quit smoking. At the same time that he is trying to break this 30-year habit, Sedaris is attempting to learn Japanese. In true Sedaris fashion, he does not allow his apparent inability to learn Japanese to stop him from pointing out all the English errors that are made by those around him and on local signage. I couldn't stop laughing at all the language-based snafus. One of my favorites was a label Sedaris found on pre-packaged sandwiches in a supermarket close to his apartment. "We have sandwiches which you can enjoy different tastes. So you can find your favorite one from our sandwiches. We hope you can choose the best one for yourself."

I have read everything by Sedaris except for Barrel Fever, which I started last night. His humor has a darkness to it that really appeals to me. One of the blurbs on the back of Flames describes Sedaris as a writer who is "revising our ideas about what's funny." This description is right on the money.

My thoughts on Sedaris's Naked and Barrel Fever


Nihil Novum said...

Barrel Fever is the worst, but a couple of the essays are pretty funny.

Brooke said...

I want to read this.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is one of my absolute favorite books.

Lynne said...

I just saw your comments in response to my comments regarding Assassination Vacation today. That just shows how often I look at my own blog, which still only has one entry. Anyway, I checked out When You are Engulfed in Flames on CD from the library and plan to listen soon. David Sedaris is another author I discovered while listening to This American Life. I have been coming here now and then to see how far you are on your 50-book quest, and am impressed. I also keep seeing books on your list that I want to read, like this one and The Assault on Reason by Al Gore. If you're ever open to having another participant in the 50 Books Project, I'd be up for it. I promise I would be much more diligent than I am about my own blog!