Literature: Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames

“…these are certainly dark times, both for the burning, and those who would set them alight.”
–David Sedaris, in When You Are Engulfed in Flames

I eagerly awaited the publication of David Sedaris’ new essay collection, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and I read it (devoured it) within a few days after its appearance last month. Even though The New York Times gave it a less than favorable review, it has been on the top of the NYT bestseller list for the past five weeks. People are loving this book…or at least they’re reading it. Why? I can’t speak for everyone, but I find Sedaris to be someone who writes the Truth, even when it’s obvious he’s lying. Sedaris is a humorist, and he exaggerates—stretching the truth like taffy—but what he’s saying generally ends up being right-on. In this book, seemingly random stories about people on airplanes or odd neighbors end up being more about trying to connect with others, and this theme is one with which we can all identify. When You Are Engulfed in Flames goes beyond humor; it is more than an entertaining read. This collection of essays, more than his others (Me Talk Pretty One Day, or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim…), touches on some of the most intimate aspects of human experience such as love, loss, and growing old. Sedaris is definitely not “up in smoke” here (as one NYT critic claims); he’s rather hot, I’d say, at the top of his game.

To read my more formal-type review of this book in the Sacramento News and Review, click here.

A few gems:

“Given enough time, I guess anything can look good. All it has to do is survive.”

“…if I have one fashion rule, it’s this: never change. That said, things change.”

“…Normandy…is basically West Virginia without the possums.”

“Though harsh in other respects, prison would be an excellent place to learn a foreign language—total immersion, and you’d have the new slang before it even hit the streets.”

“…sometimes the sins you haven’t committed are all you have to hold on to.”

“I don’t know why bad ideas spread faster than good ones, but they do.”


One response to “Literature: Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames

  1. Traci,

    Thanks for this review. He is very sharp. Hey, could you add a subscribe function like Towles has on her blog? I’d like that service because I forget to check in . . .

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