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Coffee Guy Book Review
Wednesday, November 5, 2008 • Posted November 5, 2008

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

By David Sedaris

Published by Little, Brown (2008)

$25.99 Hardback

I’m a little late when it comes to David Sedaris. We’ve carried all of his books at our store at one time or another but I didn’t read one until Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim came out in 2004. However, I was always intrigued by his fantastic titles (Me Talk Pretty One Day being my personal favorite). A good title can go a long way in deciding my interest in a book actually. I mean, how can you not be interested in a book titled When You Are Engulfed In Flames? It grabs your attention, right? If for no other reason than you may yourself be engulfed in flames one day and perhaps this book will tell you what to do in just such a situation. I guess what I’m trying to say is that some titles are better than others.

But we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or title as the case may be). So do the guts match the exterior? In a word, yes. Like his other five books When You Are Engulfed In Flames is a collection of essays that draw extensively from Sedaris’ personal life. This time around Sedaris gives us stories about spiders as pets, buying a human skeleton as a gift, exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior toward a fellow passenger on a flight by filling in vindictive answers on a crossword puzzle and trying to quit smoking in Tokyo. As usual most of these stories are very personal and most of the names don’t even change to protect the innocent (or guilty).

Personally, I have a hard time categorizing what makes Sedaris’s writing so humorous. I want to just say, “He’s funny.” But for our purposes here I suppose I need to offer you a little more than that. I guess you could say that he possesses a dark sense of humor. The term “eccentric” would be an easy out as well. Here’s what I find most interesting about Sedaris’s work: I think (since I obviously don’t know) that he’s very attached and vested (emotionally or otherwise) to the subjects he writes about but his assessment of these people and events is very detached. This is not unique or new of course but you asked (didn’t you?) for more so you got it; and that’s all I have. Anyway, it’s this detachment that allows us to find this stuff so dang humorous.

I wish I could carry around a notebook like Sedaris does to get my thoughts and observations down as they occur. I don’t think I could turn them into the things Sedaris turns his musings into but I have some decent items every once in a while. Thing is, I hate to carry stuff. It’s a good thing for us that David Sedaris doesn’t mind carrying around paper and a writing implement. Otherwise we’d miss out on one of the best humorists around.

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