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Discussion – When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris


When You Are Engulfed in Flames
by David Sedaris
323 pages
Published June 2008

I won this book from Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On and I was totally stoked because I’ve never read any David Sedaris, but I’d bought a ticket to go see him with a few of my friends.

When I finally confessed to my friend that I wasn’t really into the book, she agreed it’s definitely not his best book and urged me to read Naked. Great! I’d bought Naked a while ago, so before the show I ransacked my house looking for Naked…and never found it. I’ll most definitely be keeping my eye open for it and will begin it as soon as it turns up, but until then…

So. The book was okay, but it was so obvious he was exaggerating in some parts, that I just didn’t find it funny. Exaggerating is practically required for humor, but too much exaggeration and I can’t find the situation funny.

It’s not that I didn’t like the book, though. I’m just ambivalant towards it. A rogue giggle did escape while I was reading, and plenty of smiles crossed my face, which is why, if I’m assured he only gets better from here, I’m willing to keep trying.

Seeing him live, though…I had a good time, but I was confuzzled at all the people who were giggling if he just looked out at the audience. He would take a breath and the audience would be laughing before he started talking. And I know he writes essays, and seeing him live is like any other author reading – he reads from his book (in Sedaris’ case he reads from work that hasn’t yet been published) – but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. I was much more interested when he finally opened it up to questions, because he was TOTALLY FUNNY. And I probably would have liked it a lot more if he hadn’t been reading, but rather had just been talking.

My friend did a great job of telling about the crazy people in the audience. But please take note of the guy who thanked Sedaris for “sharing his life with us.” Who is the crazy person that thinks Sedaris hasn’t a) exaggerated his butt off (which is fine by me) or b) totally made stuff up? Seriously, Sedaris hasn’t “shared his life with us.” There’s probably a grain of truth to his stories, and his family is probably kooky-er than your average family, but really. Sedaris hasn’t become rich on sharing his life with us.

Rebecca loved seeing him live. This is the first post about it.

Gentle Reader really liked this book. 

Lezlie loved it!

Becca sings his praises.

Jill has more of my sentiments.

The book made Andi crack up.

Dewey’s review.

Bits of Lit liked it…

mary_m liked it even though it’s not his best.

My problem with Raych is that I could probably listen to her read a grocery list and start cracking up.

From which I won the book.

Marie agrees this is book is best for the die-hard Sedaris fan.

And of course, my friend.  

Have you read anything by David Sedaris? Do you think he’s funny? Have you seen him live?

| Tags: , , , , 18 comments »

18 Responses to “Discussion – When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris”

  1. bermudaonion

    I haven’t read any of Sedaris’ books, but I have Naked on my Christmas wish list. Someone (I can’t remember who) suggested that is the one to start with.


  2. Raych

    One day I will PHONE you, and will read you my grocery list, and it will sound thusly:

    – chicken-flavored Ramen noodles
    – vegetable-flavored Ramen noodles
    – for heaven’s sake, don’t get the shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles again, because they were barfy
    – bag of onions
    – bag of potatoes
    – bag of discounted vegetables (note: eat tomorrow)
    – chips for Joel
    – chips ostensibly for Joel that probably I will eat
    – slightly expensive faux-healthy snacks (hide from Joel)
    – comically oversized bag of chocolate chips
    – self-esteem


  3. Sandra

    Interesting review and report on his reading. I’ve never read him because I like serious fiction and I’ve never found anyone whose humourous writing I liked. I love comedians though, the stand-up sort, and suspect it’s just me. Even Lewis Black can’t write half as funny as he speaks. But I certainly hear good things about Sedaris everywhere. And talk about complete coverage of a topic, that list of links is incredible. You’ve done your homework, are you sure you aren’t his publicist? 🙂 But you’ve made me think twice about trying him so the first time I’m in the mood for humour maybe I will.
    And your friend at ‘books i done read’ has quite the way with words. She had me in stitches once when she replied to an obnoxious writer.


  4. curlywurlygurly

    i’ve read all his books and enjoyed them but ‘when you are engulfed…’ didn’t quite live up to his other stuff. give naked a shot…you just might find it funny. he’s snarky but cracks me up.


  5. Devourer of Books

    You know, I read “Dress Your Family… and I had a similar reaction to yours with “Engulfed”. I enjoy hearing him much more than reading him and do enjoy his pieces on This American Life, but I can really take him or leave him.


  6. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    I read about half of Naked and realized it wasn’t for me. I really really wanted to like it, but I just didn’t. It’s possible that like Sandra, I just don’t really get humorous writing, unless it’s purely fiction. I don’t know.


  7. terri

    I much prefer to listen to Sedaris on audiobooks rather than reading. There’s something about the cadence and the irony in his voice. I’ve “read” (listened to) Me Talk Pretty One Day (excellent), Holidays on Ice (love the elf bit) and half of When You Are Engulfed. I love his over-the-topness!


  8. Teddy

    I haven’t read any of Sedaris’ books either but I have a few on my TBR. I think I’ll try a different one. Thanks for the review.


  9. Lezlie

    I have to admit that I think part of the reason I loved this book so much was because I listened to him read it. I read Naked myself, and, while I absolutely enjoyed it, it’s more fun to listen to him.



  10. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog

    Yes, I totally loved seeing him live, but I completely agree that the latest book is far from his best. I did a mini-review of it in this post and just really felt that he was trying too hard. His Q & A session at the talk I saw was also great…now I’m off to read the summary at Both Eyes.


  11. jana

    I’m a big fan of Sedaris: I’ve read all of his stuff and seen him live a couple of times. I can see what you mean about Engulfed. My personal favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day — I can’t even think about it without starting to laugh. I recommend reading it then listen to the audio (if for no other reason than to hear him imitate his brother).


  12. purplemoonmyst

    I haven’t read this one yet but his other books are seriously funny. I agree Naked is a good book.


  13. S. Krishna

    I haven’t read any Sedaris either, but I’m glad I know to start with a different book now!


  14. Callista

    The only one I’ve read so far is Naked but I plan on reading them all. I found Naked hilouriously funny. While what he writes is no memoir, I don’t doubt that what he writes about is mostly true, with exaggerations. It’s easier to be humorous about something that happened to you.


  15. Ladytink_534 (Jen)

    I’ve never read anything by David Sedaris before but I’m pretty sure I’d like him. My library just ordered his holiday book and I’m thinking about picking it up b/c I’ve heard similar reviews for this one.


  16. Kiki

    I love him–I read a lot f serious stuff, like someone else said, and he is my guilty pleasure. Me Talk Pretty One Day is by far my favorite, with Holidays on Ice coming a close second. I enjoyed When You are Engulfed by Flames. Naked and Barrel Fever are the ones I haven’t read (yet!)

    Maybe this is the kind of stuff that old die hard Seinfeld fans like–talk about the everyday that just seems funny when you start to talk about it…


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  18. Jeanne

    Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is my favorite because it has “Six to Eight Black Men” in it, which is the funniest Christmas story ever (and one of the most well-written essays I’ve ever read). The first time I read it, I was in a waiting room with a bunch of other parents waiting for our kids to finish swim practice, and I got to laughing so hard I had to leave the room–and even then, I couldn’t stop laughing for a while.


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