When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

Everyone should read this book. I’ve loved David Sedaris’ books ever since I’ve discovered them. For those who haven’t read any of them before, they consist of essays which are mostly slices of life, mostly slices of his life, and they tend to be written on the comical side. What I love about books like this is that though we haven’t all shared the same experiences as each other and while we don’t live the same lifestyle as everyone else, we can share certain emotions and certain feelings and enjoy a good laugh or a sympathetic sigh at the familiarity of a situation.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames has already topped the New York Times Bestseller list and rightfully so. I enjoyed it from it’s opening pages where Sedaris talks about the presence of germs on nearly every surface including his partner’s mother’s leg all the way through the final section which logs his final days as a smoker and his journey quitting while in Tokyo (I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard). For those who enjoy cultural references, there are many to be had as he discusses the different nuances of the places he’s lived and traveled including Normandy, Paris, New York, and Tokyo among many others.

About halfway through the book, I decided that it was no longer safe to read this one in public. I was outside reading on my back porch and I got to a chapter called “In the Waiting Room”. The chapter talks about his time in France and how one of the first phrases he learned was “d’accord” and how it gets you along because it means “ok”. He was asked to go into a doctors office and strip down to his underwear and he answered “d’accord” but didn’t know where he went after that since there were three doors out of the changing room. He chose one of the doors and had a seat and soon noticed that other people were entering the room but were fully dressed while he was not. He of course describes this much funnier than I am, but needless to say, I’m laughing more than I ever have at a book in my backyard while my neighbors are in their backyard thinking I’m losing it….so I moved it inside and I didn’t read this one in public anymore. I wouldn’t advise that you do either. The next essay, entitled “Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle”, starts with this sentence: “On the flight to Raleigh, I sneezed, and the cough drop I’d been sucking on shot from my mouth, ricocheted off my folded tray table, and landed, as I remember it, on the lap of the woman beside me, who was asleep and had her arms folded across her chest.” I hadn’t even recovered yet from the last chapter…

Through all the humor there’s a raw honesty and vulnerability to this book. It’s a memoir in a way but it’s more than that. It’s almost a memoir on the state of the world. Sure we get pieces of David’s life and pieces of his family’s life, but we get to see the world through his travels and through the interactions of those around them during the events of the world today. It’s a book that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout as I have the previous two books I’ve read by him, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Sedaris can also be heard frequently on NPR’s This American Life and When You are Engulfed in Flames is also available on Audio CD. Whichever version you choose, I hope you check it out!


22 Responses

  1. so, I’m reading this review and got totally lost in it.. thinking about all the laughing. I’ve heard of all these books but never went so far as to read any reviews on it…. I come to the end and think, I’ve got to comment and then go check all 3 of them out on amazon, when I realize “who’s blog I am reading”… (yeah yeah, I am still a zombie. Haven’t finished my first cup of coffee and had to take care of my brother in this state, so I am still zoned out)
    Now that I realize it’s YOU.. h eh.. I have to check them out even harder.. because you like everything! I have proof of that with reviews you did for MY story! lol… gawd. I need to wake up before I check more reviews on these books!… hope you are having a more awake day than I am!

  2. After your review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, I went out and bought two of his books for Rich. I definitely think I need to go borrow them from his piles! I’ll bet a few of his essays would make for some good read-a-thon material, too, huh?

  3. That sounds great — thanks for the recommend!

  4. I mean, the recommendation. It is early yet.

  5. I heard part of an interview with him on NPR the other day which was very good. I know he was also touring and was in KC not long ago at one of the local bookstores. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this guy and this sounds like the kind of fun book I need for my summer reading list.

  6. I read Me Talk Pretty One Day and you’re right – it’s Sedaris’s books are NOT to be read in public! I was reading one night in bed while my husband was in the other room watching TV. He came running back to check on me because I was laughing to hard I was practically choking! I was on the chapter where the French class tries to explain Easter to a Muslim woman … without actually knowing the correct French words. Or maybe it was the chapter where he kept buying enormous amounts of food because he couldn’t figure out the correct gender-specific French term for a SINGLE item, only for groups of items. ~LOL~

  7. *sigh*.. it’s on the wish list !

  8. I have to wait for this to arrive here first, but yes I’m a Sedaris fan. I’ve been a fan of his after seeing him on David Letterman years, I mean years ago talking about Me Talk Pretty One Day. Of course I had to buy that book once it reached our shores 🙂

    This sounds like a good read as well. Yay, another book to save for, argh 🙂

  9. My mom got this one for her birthday from a friend! I got Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim for my dad for his birthday last year, and both my parents absolutely loved it. 🙂

  10. I haven’t read this one yet, but I do love David AND Amy Sedaris. She actually makes me laugh harder than he does! Glad you enjoyed it!

  11. Deslily, I really think you’d like this one! LIke I said in the review, I can’t see anyone not enjoying this book. It’s one of those books that just makes you laugh your ass off and you just really enjoy it from opening to close! And yeah, yeah….I do enjoy everything :p But I think you’ll find that others enjoy this one too :p YAY! Just saw your second comment that it’s on the wishlist 😀

    Debi, His books would definitely be great reads for the readathon! They’re light reads that fly by and they’re extremely entertaining. I guarantee that you won’t fall asleep reading these! You’ll enjoy them 🙂

    Christine, Of course! Hope you enjoy it if you pick it up!

    Carl, He’s been great every time I’ve heard him on NPR. He’s actually doing a signing today in Baton Rouge which is only about 50 minutes from me, but unfortunately I have to work..so I won’t be going. It’s definitely a great summer read though. Really enjoyed it. He still has 3 more books that I haven’t read and I’ll be picking them up some time.

    Heather, Oh God! I was dying during that chapter. In fact I think I wrote about that chapter in my review of Me Talk Pretty One Day….the one with him trying to describe Easter to a Muslim in French. I had completely forgotten about that until you just reminded me and then I just lost it again, lol! Great stuff!

    Lightheaded, You’ll love it! I hope it comes out soon over there. It was absolutely hilarious. I hope he does some more late show appearances with this book. I’d love to see some more interviews with him. You start to wonder how so many things happen to one person!

    Eva, I’m sure your mom is going to love this one! You should borrow it from her when she’s done 🙂 Very cool that you bought the other one for your Dad last year too. He’s just a great writer…I really enjoy everything he writes.

    Stephanie, I was thinking about you while I was reading this one because I know that you love Amy Sedaris too! She’s mentioned quite a bit in this book as he talks about his relationship with her and they have a really good relationship. Needless to say, it’s hilarious when you get them in a room together. You should get this one!

  12. I LOVE David Sedaris! I can’t wait to read this book!

  13. Right, this settles it. I’m going to have to read some David Sedaris. And I know what you mean about now being able to read certain books in public…it often happens to me with Terry Pratchett 😀

  14. It’s been added to the wishlist. I *love* reading books that you can’t read in public!

  15. Man, this sounds so good that I may have to break down and buy a copy! Damn!

    I love Sedaris, I love “This American Life,” and I love YOU Chris! Can you pleez, pleez send me your copy so I don’t have to buy one? Pleez? Did I say “I love you” yet?

  16. that sounds so funny! especially that “d’accord” bit.

    i’ve gotten myself in dumb-ass situations like that even in places where i do speak the language. its funny how its in our nature (at least mine) to follow orders when we’re in situations like that – even though we don’t quite know whats happening to us.

  17. I laughed out loud reading your review so I know I need to read this book. Thanks for the heads up. I had never heard of this author before.

  18. Sister Sassy, If you love Sedaris you’ll LOVE this one. It’s such a great book from cover to cover. Hope you check it out!

    Nymeth, Yay! Glad you plan on reading some Sedaris. This would be a great one to start with though really you could read any of his books..they’re all great!

    Becky, I’m the same way and this is definitely one not to read in public! It’s an experience that just doesn’t happen often enough, huh?

    Chartroose, Ha! Damn is right…sorry to make you shell out money 😉 Flattery will usually get you everywhere with me, but I’m afraid I can’t part with this one, lol…however, there may be a giveaway involved here on this site soon involving this book 😉

    Jean Pierre, It was extremely funny! I laughed my ass off while I was reading it. I get myself into dumb ass situations too all the time, though I never remember them well enough to write them down like Sedaris does. I should start carrying a notebook around…

    Jeff, You should definitely read this one. he’s definitely an author to put on your radar. He’s great…like I said, I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read!

  19. This is the first blogger review I’ve read of this book! I’m looking forward to it myself. HEY! I know! I should get it for the readathon!

    Do you think the quitting smoking part(s) will help you with your quitting? How is that going, by the way? How’s your dad?

    I think the audio might be a mistake because you’d miss so much laughing, or have to pause it, etc. But if I see people cracking up alone in their cars, I’ll just assume they’re listening to this book!

  20. I’ve never read a Sedaris book. For some reason I never knew that it was humor. I think I’ll look into this one where prior I didn’t really have any desire. Thanks Chris!

  21. Fantastic review! I just recently got into David Sedaris. He has a wonderful reading voice, so I listen to his audio books. Dewey is right about the laughing but I think that makes it even better. 🙂 🙂

    You guys should download the free short story that’s being offered on Audible right now. You don’t have to buy the book (but you can) to get the David Sedaris short story. It’s sooo great. I’ll take as much of him as I can get!!

    Anyway, it’s at http://www.audible.com/logo then click the free short story button (sorry, I don’t remember the exact link but you’ll see it!!)

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