Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

When You Are Engulfed In FlamesWhen You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the only one of David Sedaris's books not included in the
  Ultimate David Sedaris Audio Collection, not counting Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, which is newer and therefore I didn't expect it to be included. It took me a while to warm up to Sedaris's dry, dark humor, but now, I find myself a fan.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames takes the same scattershot approach as his other books. There are stories about his childhood, about his struggle with drugs, about his longtime partner, Hugh, about living in France. The last quarter of the book is about how he quit smoking by going to Japan for a couple of months, where he revisits his hopelessness to learn new languages, as seen in Me Talk Pretty One Day.

In many ways, I felt like this was the most personal of Sedaris's books. He still talks about other people, but he also discusses a lot more of what things mean to him, why he makes the observations he does, and how he collects so many tidbits about the world around him. He still strikes me as a magnet for weirdness, but it becomes clear that anyone could witness all the strange things he does, if they had his luck and his little notebook.

There is one fiction story slipped in, a satire on Princeton and Ivy League education in general. He speaks as if he went to Princeton, but frames the story as if it were during Roman rule.

The funniest story, to me, was "Town and Country," about a NY taxi driver who gives him advice he inadvertently takes. "Crybaby" was the most touching of the stories, and, while it has its funny parts, it reminded me that Sedaris writes about humanity, not just its laughable moments.

I read this on audio, which means I'm quite familiar with the author's voice, by now. If you're unfamiliar with his softer, slightly nasally voice, you may have an adjustment period. I recommend listening to some of his live tracks, where the audience will help you realize it's okay to laugh at some of his darker observations.

Overall, I liked this book. It gave me a greater appreciation for David Sedaris. I'd like to see him live when he comes to Albany.

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