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When You Are Engulfed in Flames Hardcover – June 3, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 653 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 the Paperback edition.

From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316143472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316143479
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (653 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julie Neal VINE VOICE on June 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Reading a David Sedaris short story is like watching the author think. Each one is told as a stream of consciousness that somehow ties together beautifully in the end. This collection includes some laugh-out-loud essays, and others that are touching and poignant. All are interesting and so original they are obviously taken from real life.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been waiting for a new David Sedaris book for a long time. I read the entire book yesterday afternoon and I could not stop laughing. His descriptions, dialogue, and demented details are uniquely Sedaris. This book did not disappoint; I knew what I was getting into the moment I read through the table of contents. Some critics are saying that there is nothing new here, blah, blah, blah. What do they want from a David Sedaris book? Romance? Epic Adventure? YA Fiction? I am a huge fan of Mr. Sedaris (David, not Lou), and his essays on his life leave me laughing. The section on smoking was not only funny, but very truthful. I could taste the menthol while reading. Very descriptive-very hilarious! Thank you David Sedaris.
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Format: Hardcover
Writer/humorist David Sedaris' sixth book delivers the hilarity and razor-sharp wit, social commentary, and tenderness of his previous books, but fans of Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Naked may be in for a bit of a disappointment. His previous smashing success has made it increasingly hard for him to top himself. Upon diving into Sedaris' latest collection of autographical essays, one can't help but feel De' Ja' Vu. Any fans will have already seen all of these essays featured in the New Yorker magazine already over the past three or four years. I was a bit disappointed to get the "Wait a minute, I've read this before!" feeling with the opening story, "It's Catching," about his mother-in-law's medical bout with a worm living under her skin. But I guess we can't really blame Mr. Sedaris for the fact that we love him so much that we've already read pretty much all of these in The New Yorker, Esquire, etc. magazines.

Fans of Augusten Burroughs will enjoy Sedaris and also recognize him as a much more believable writer of the memoir. Unlike previous collections which each focus on one part of his life, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames," covers the range of Sedaris' anecdotal life: from childhood and life at home with his mom and sisters, to his adult life, including when he first moved to Paris and dropped out of French classes and ran around telling everyone "D'accord" because of his limited vocabulary. Because this book covers such a wide Sedaris life range, it feels almost like a "best of" kind of collection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Okay, so it's funny. (ish). There were probably a total of six pages that gave me the kind of squirt milk out of your nose laugh that I love. The rest were just mild chuckles that were spread further along than usual with a Sedaris book. i can't say I found it disappointing, I just wanted to bellyache a bit more. The only conclusion I can come up with after finishing the final longest essay about him quitting smoking, is that like everyone else he's growing older, maturing, and feeling a sense of responsibility. While this made for a sweet and somewhat poignant conclusion, I couldn't help but feel like some of his comedic acid was mellowing with age.
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Format: Hardcover
A very enjoyable read, with a couple of pieces that may be among Sedaris' very best. It does however, feel like there are couple of essays that should have been left out of this collection-pieces that did not add to the book as a whole, or seemed too similar to each other. I do think that "Solution to Saturday's Puzzle" is one of the great pieces of humorous writing, up on a level with Wodehouse's "Clicking of Cuthbert," which it resembles in almost no way. Frankly, the book is worth it for the giggles and guffaws to be found in that story alone, the rest of the collection is icing on the literary cake (though perhaps occasionally spread a bit too thick).
Buy this book and enjoy the sharp hilarity of our dreary lives...and if you like it, you might want to try Marc Acito's new novel. He's another one of our wittiest writers.
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