Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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 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!

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