Thursday, July 10, 2008

When You are Engulfed in Flames

When You are Engulfed in Flames is the latest book of short stories/essays by David Sedaris. I'm a big Sedaris fan, so I broke down and bought the hardcover, which I usually don't do, but I couldn't wait. Possibly it is better to wait for the softcover, but it's a very enjoyable read. Not nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but not as mournful as ... oh, I forget which one... where he writes about his mother dying.

I'd already read several of the essays in various other publications - The New Yorker and GQ and so on. Because they were great stories, I was thrilled to read them again. The best is probably "Cry Baby" about his seatmate on a plane crying throughout his journey. And the last third or so of the book is about his three-month trip to Japan to quit smoking. It's beyond self-indulgent, but that's also partly the point.

My favorite essays were the ones that made me laugh and then surprised me at the end by turning the table toward seriousness, like "Cry Baby" or "All the Beauty You Will ever Need" which address a certain view of homosexuality:
It's astonishing the amount of time that certain straight people devote to gay sex - trying to determine what goes where and how often. They can't imagine any system outside their own, and seem obsessed with the idea of roles, both in bed and out of it. Who calls whom a bitch? Who cries harder when the cat dies? Which one spends more time in the bathroom? I guess they think that it's that cut-and-dried, though of course it's not. Hugh might do the cooking, and actually wear an apron while he's at it, but he also chops the firewood, repaires the hot-water heater, and could tear off my arm with not more effort than it takes to uproot a dandelion.

You know what I find most curious about this book? At the end there's an "About the Author" paragraph which reads:
David Sedaris's half-dozen books have been translated into twenty-five languages, including Estonian, Greek, and Bahasa. His essays appear frequently in The New Yorker and are heard on Public Radio International's This American Life.
I just find that so odd. Do you think he wrote that himself? Bahasa? What the hell is that?

BTW, the cover art is from a less-well known painting by van Gogh - so, you see, he did have a little sense of humor!


Kathy said...

I'm with you: the Sedaris book was quite the pleasant pool-side read. I actually made a neighbor I barely know read the story that your excerpt came from. I laughed till I peed at that one. HI-larious!

What I love about Sedaris is how right he gets some of the many tiny ironies of life...I always find myself thinking "gawd, yes! That's it exactly". I also appreciate how like his speech his writing can always picture him telling you the stories in person.

Special K said...

Yes, I love hearing him read on NPR!

kbmulder said...

I didn't know the cover was from Van Gogh until I saw the Vincent & Theo movie a few weeks ago! Now I feel just a little smarter, that I can point that out to people. You probably know from the very beginning, as the art expert:)

I can't remember which one had me laughing the loudest, but it was probably the one where the kids were all laughing at YaYa who was farting obliviously at the dinner table.

Thumbs up!