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When You Are Engulfed in Flames Hardcover – June 3, 2008
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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
About the Author
David Sedaris is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and Public Radio International's "This American Life." He is the author of the books Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, and Barrel Fever.
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The opening story "SantaLand Diaries" is the story that put this author on the map when it was read on NPR. It's the sort of "autobiographical fiction" (i.e. based on his life, but exaggerated for comic effect) that Sedaris does so beautifully. It's a classic.
Sedaris admits to some exaggeration, so maybe writing stories about holidays is a natural fit for his talents. Americans take their celebrations very seriously indeed, with the result that observing behavior during holidays is even more entertaining than observing behavior the rest of the time. Holidays bring out the crazy in all of us. Ask any cop or ER nurse or Mall Santa. Even normal people go whack-o.
I loved the Christmas letters that spiral out of control. I howled at the critiques of children's holiday productions. Naturally, your own offspring (or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc) are charming, talented, and delightful, but who the hell thought we'd want to watch those other boring brats?
But my favorites were "Dinah the Christmas Whore" and "Let It Snow" because of the glimpses into the strange family that shaped this author's twisted outlook on life. His family may have been "Southern by the Grace of Greyhound" but they fit right in. Anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional family will recognize the characters and situations. Those of you who grew up in a normal family don't know what you missed.
I think most of these stories are ones I would enjoy re-reading and the collection is a great introduction to this author's writing. After all, this is a man who's been called "one of the funniest writers alive." By The Economist. And if people who write about the economy don't know great humor when they see, I can't imagine who does.
Sedaris is meant to be heard, and I can hear his voice reading these short stories as I read them. His unique speaking voice and writing voice are unmistakable. Nobody sound just like David Sedaris. Funny and poignant, both voices combine into a reading experience like none other.
The great thing about Holidays on Ice is FIRST listening to him read it. THEN read it yourself. ANd you can hear his voice in your head reading it. That's what I do. I imagine his voice reading it and it makes it that much more funny. Funnier ?
I took it to the reading, and he re-signed it. I love him. He's so wee. You just want to wrap him up and take him home and make him tell you funny things.