So y’all know that I am not big on picking up a book again once I have read it. I am, however, a fan of certain authors and if I love them, I want to read all of their work. Yep. If you’ve wowed me once, I want to be wowed again; and such is the case with David Sedaris. I have read just about everything he’s written and was shocked and awed when I saw him earlier this month and realized that I didn’t have his latest effort, WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES. So, I grabbed a soft cover, got it signed, and tucked it away for a week I wanted to be engulfed in laughter.

WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES is a solid collection of essays, 22 in fact, that cover a wide range of adult-themed topics, with the most pervasive theme being death. (Note: That’s the only parental advisory warning I will provide; any future reading and laughing is done at your own risk). For those familiar with Sedaris, there are the definite moments where it’s crucial you set your beverage down while reading or the liquid will spew from your lips (and maybe your nose), but there are more moments of humility, sensitivity and reflection than I have seen in his other works… and it actually works.


I laughed out loud during “What I Learned” when he recounted the story of going to Princeton and studying literature only to have his father say,
[blockquote]You’re going to study literature and get a job doing what? Literaturizing?[/blockquote]

“Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle” is a hilarious account of a plane ride in which he found himself next to Becky, a woman who becomes engulfed in anger when he won’t trade seats so that her husband can sit by her. Mind you, it’s a 90-minute flight and the hubs is sitting in the bulkhead. When Becky’s beloved quietly mouths “How come? [he won’t change seats]” Becky yells across the plane, “Cause he’s an asshole, that’s why.” At that moment the game is on and, Sedaris takes on his nemesis through the Saturday Times’ crossword puzzle:

[blockquote] An elderly woman in aisle A turned to look at me, and I pulled a Times crossword puzzle from the bag beneath my seat. That always makes you look reasonable, especially on a Saturday, when the words are long and the clues are exceptionally tough. The problem is that you have to concentrate, and all I could think of was this Becky person.
Seventeen across: a fifteen letter word for enlightenment: “I am not an asshole,” I wrote, and it fit.
Five down: six letter Indian tribe: “You are.”
Look at that smart man, breezing through the puzzle, I imagined everyone thinking. He must be a genius. That’s why he wouldn’t swap seats for that poor married woman. He knows something we don’t.[/blockquote]
There were cringe-worthy moments, like when he was repeatedly (and rudely) propositioned by a surly truck driver that offered him a ride in “Road Trip” and the realization that his friendship with a neighboring man would have to change when that man was proven to be a child molester, in “The Man in the Hut”.

But there were also moments of humility and maturity, such as when reflecting on his mother’s death and father’s mortality, as well as his own efforts to break a decades long smoking habit, that suited Sedaris’ writing style just fine. For those brand new to Sedaris, I would recommend my all-time favorite, NAKED followed by everyone else’s favorite, ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, and then hit the holidays with either THE SANTALAND DIARIES or HOLIDAYS ON ICE. But for those looking for a balance of the rollicking good humor and little kinder, softer Sedaris WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES is the perfect fit.

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Essays
Pages: 336