When You are Engulfed in Flames is the 3rd book from David Sedaris that I've read. The first was Me Talk Pretty One Day, which had me laughing like a maniac in public places. It was a great experience and sing I'd come quite late to his books, I had several others to choose from to read next. Unfortunately, I picked up Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, which was only so-so. I can't really remember what put me off about it, though I assume it just wasn't that funny. But I was a bit wary after that and hadn't picked up any of Sedaris' books since. When You are Engulfed in Flames had a great cover though and it was 40% off, so why not?
Opening paragraph, from "It's Catching":
My friend Patsy was telling me a story. "So I'm at the movie theater," she said, "and I've got my coat all neatly laid out against the back of my seat, when this guy comes along –" And here I stopped her, because I've always wondered about this coat business. When I'm in a theater, I either fold mine in my lap or throw it over my armrest, but Patsy always spreads hers out, acting as if the seat back were cold, and she couldn't possibly enjoy herself while it was suffering.I can't remember if Sedaris' other books had any sort of thematic element to tie the essays together. (I assume I was being a lazy reader and that there actually was.) This collection is mainly about death and endings. Very entertaining takes on these subjects, of course.
For the most part this book brought me back to the laughing-out-loud-on-the-bus mode. It makes me feel like a tit just to grin in public when doing something so private as reading, but it couldn't be helped. There were a few mediocre stories, but more were absolute gems, and most of the collection fell on the very enjoyable side of somewhere in between.
On the whole, I think I prefer Me Talk Pretty One Day, but it's been a long time since I read it, and I'm very happy with the experience of reading When You are Engulfed in Flames. It was worth every moment spent.
David Sedaris has written several books, beginning with Barrel Fever and Naked, neither of which I've read, and a handful of others (most of which I've also not read). He has co-written several plays I've neither seen nor read with his sister Amy Sedaris, and he's also been a contributor to Ira Glass' This American Life radio show. (Which I've never listened to, incidentally.)
Sedaris, David. When You Are Engulfed in Flames. New York: Back Bay Books, 2009.
Finished: 12 July 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 human skeletons
This was my 4th book in July and my 26th in 2009.
*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.