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When You Are Engulfed in Flames Hardcover – June 3, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Sedaris's sparkling essays always shimmer more brightly when read aloud by the author. And his expert timing, mimicry and droll asides are never more polished than during live performances in front of an audience. Happily, four of the 22 pieces are live recordings, and listeners can hear Sedaris's energy increase from the roaring, rolling laughter of the appreciative audience. Sedaris's studio recording of his 10-page Of Mice and Men runs 16 minutes, while the live recording of Town and Country, which runs the same length in print, expands to 22 minutes thanks to an audience that often doesn't let him finish a sentence without making him pause for laughter to subside. The studio recordings usually begin with an acoustic bass and brief sound effect (a buzzing fly, the lighting of a cigarette, the clinking of ice in a drink, etc.). Sedaris's brilliant magnum opus, The Smoking Section (about his successful trip to Tokyo is quit smoking) stretches across the final two CDs. A Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 28). (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
With essay collections such as Naked (1997) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Sedaris kicked the door down for the “quirky memoir” genre and left it open for writers like Augusten Burroughs and Jeannette Walls to mosey on through. Sometimes the originators of a certain trend in literature are surpassed by their own disciples—but, this is Sedaris we’re talking about. When it comes to fashioning the sardonic wisecrack, the humiliating circumstance, and the absurdist fantasy, there’s nobody better. Unfortunately, being in a league of your own often means competing with yourself. This latest collection of 22 essays proves that not only does Sedaris still have it, but he’s also getting better. True, the terrain is familiar. The essays “Old Faithful” and “That’s Amore” again feature Sedaris’ overly competent boyfriend, Hugh. And nutty sister Amy can be found leafing through bestial pornography in “Town and Country.” Present also are Sedaris’ favored topics: death, compulsion, unwanted sexual advances, corporal decay, and more death. Nevertheless, Sedaris’ best stuff will still—after all this time—move, surprise, and entertain. --Jerry Eberle
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Top Customer Reviews
If you're not familiar with him, Sedaris is the Dave Barry of the National Public Radio set. I've been a Sedaris fan for a long time through NPR's "This American Life." This book is like a collection of the best of those quirky radio essays. (I also have the audio CD set, a 9-hour, 8-disc marathon that plays like an NPR fundraising marathon without those annoying pleas for cash.)
The stories are filled with memorable characters. Irritated Becky, who sits next to Sedaris on a plane flight and inspires incorrect answers in Solution to Saturday's Puzzle. Gravel-voiced Helen, who lives next door to Sedaris and is the unlikely heroine of That's Amore. Sedaris' sister Amy, the owner of a magazine called New Animal Orgy in Town and Country. Woven throughout the essays is the fast-walking Hugh, Sedaris boyfriend, who demonstrates true love by lancing a boil in Old Faithful.
Not all the essays are mass appeal (my husband, who is not a big NPR listener, hated the first one but loved the third) but I think there's plenty of good stuff in here to please just about any thoughtful adult reader. There is plenty of sex and language, however, so it's not for your pre-teen or Aunt Betsy. But for most anyone else who wants a good laugh, it's a must-read.
The thing is though we seem to have absolutely nothing in common we do have one thing, tiny as it may be, we the commanality of being human and living during this particular era. That is what connects me to him and his writing, his humble humanity. He knows he isn't a beauty queen, he consistently blunders through life making mistakes, playing the fool even and yet he has this amazing ability to WRITE about it, to share it with thw world and make fun of himself OUT LOUD to millions of readers. I love him for that, I love him for the fact academia hasn't sapped the humanity out of him and made him feel blunder proof or at least made him a blunder snob, hiding behind eight letter words that no one knows the true meaning of, ducking behind an Ivy league education.
I picked this particular book up because my best friend is in the hospital, has been, will be, for a while. I have learned that he CANNOT handle being alone so I sit there, hour upon hour and try to read him to sleep. Sedaris' short stories and essays are perfect hospital food right? The problem is reading them aloud for the first time is hard because he makes laugh out loud (and not many do)so in the quiet hospital corridors one room is bellowing with laughter, from me, from my sick friend who really shouldn't be laughing right now, it hurts him, but he won't let me stop. A nurse cruises in inevitably when I am reading something that out of context seems dirty, it becomes even funnier.
My context of reading this particular Sedaris book aside it is really a very funny, charming piece of literature that connects with the reader on many levels. The parts that others seem to be offended or put off by, I say read them with zeal, be happy that someone out there is making enough money off being a boob, off proudly being a boob to travel to Japan and France and across the U.S. and is taking the time (for money maybe but whatever) to share his experiences as a pretty much average Joe with us. Be happy to read from someone who relishes in the oddities, who isn't always tring to make you sympathetic and tearful. It really is a rare quality. You will find that most contemporary memoir(ish) literature relies on human empathy and sad, sad, sad, SAD parts of life. It's nice to take a break and read from someone who can tell you abot his mother dying of lung cancer in one paragraph and have you giggling in the next.Comedy or Tragedy, life is what you make of it. Trust me I have my own fair share of the comedically tragic, but when my friends can laugh at the crazy things I say and do when I am hallucinating because Lupus is attacking my brain I am way better than when they are crying over it.
David Sedaris has the ability to make you laugh over things that put another way might make you cry. AND he has inspired me to REALLY quit smoking, I am done with cigarettes.